Neil Gaiman: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (review)

17026_413852478709121_1163712783_n‘Growing up, I took so many cues from books. They taught me most of what I knew about what people did, about how to behave. They were my teachers and advisers. In books, boys climbed trees, so I climbed trees, sometimes very high, always scared of falling. In books, people climbed up and down drainpipes to get in and out of houses, so I  climbed up and down drainpipes too.’ (p. 203)

So The Ocean at the End of the Lane was one of the books I was most excited about this year. I’ve been following it’s ‘conception’ on Neil Gaiman’s twitter and blog and in part because of my partaking in the process of the creating of the novel, in part because of the epitome of coolness that is Neil Gaiman and in part just because I like what Neil Gaiman creates and stands for, this was a novel that I knew I would buy and read as soon as possible. Add to this a gorgeous cover – even in the paperback version which is the only one I’ve seen in Danish bookstores – and I was at the point of no return.
Of course, this is extremely dangerous because you then hype the novel so much in your own head that you almost inevitably set it up for failure (which is why I haven’t read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern yet. I have build it up so much that it will be very difficult for it to live up to my expectations and so, I just don’t read it and that way I can keep thinking of it as an amazing novel. Not sure how well this approach is working since I then don’t read the books I’m anticipating the most… Anyway …). But to not make a bigger fuss about this than it need to be, I read the novel as soon as I could and as quickly as I could and I really liked it. I didn’t love it but I have the feeling that it is a novel that will keep growing on me and that I will return to – much like I feel about Neverwhere.
A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home in Sussex to attend a funeral. While there, he decides to return to his childhood home and haunts. The home doesn’t bring back all that many memories but then he continues on towards the end of the lane, to the Hempstock farm. And while there, sitting on a bench, staring out across a duck pond, a whole flood of memories return to him.
He suddenly remembers his seventh birthday where no one came which he doesn’t seem all to sad about since he still received The Chronicles of Narnia, a cute black kitten and more. Even though his parents seem a bit distant and not all that caring, they give him just the perfect gifts. But things are about to change. His parents experience some financial trouble which necessitate taking in a lodger and this force him to share his little sister’s room.
The first of these lodgers is an opal miner who brings with him a lot of bad luck. He starts out by running over the kitten, then he gambles away all his and his friends’ money and finally, he steals the family’s car and uses it to commit suicide in and with.
This tragic event sets dark things in motion and causes our protagonist to get to know the women at the Hempstock farm. Three women living together. The oldest remember the Big Bang. The youngest is just 11 – but has been 11 for a long time and claims that her duck pond is really an ocean.
Neil Gaiman manages to create a totally believable reality where you don’t question the fantastic elements the slightest. Does what comes next really happen or are it just a child’s way of explaining things? It really plays on childhood fears and sometimes the fantastic makes more sense than the harsh realities. At least to a child.
It reminded me of NeverwhereItAmerican Gods … and even a bit of Pulp Fiction (mostly because of Harvey Keitel). At the same time the book feels extremely personal. I keep picturing a young Neil Gaiman having all this happen to him – or some version of this at least and the book is the result of him having turned these events over and over in his imagination throughout all these years.
It’s been a while since I read it but I don’t remember it as a 4 stars read. I actually remember being a bit disappointed by it which is probably because of how much I had hyped in. Gaiman brings up themes of memory and the unreliability of it, reality v. fiction, good v. evil, myth v. faith – all themes that I’m interested in. And it is a book I think back on very fondly. It’s a novel that feels that it could be explored a lot further and that it will be more rewarding on subsequent reads. So it’ll get a 4 stars rating from me and then I’ll hope to return to it and one more visit the women at the Hempstock farm and see how a duckpond can truly be an ocean.

‘Grown-ups don’t look like grownups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t many grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.’ (p. 152)

First line: It was only a duckpond, out at the back of the farm.

  • Title: The Ocean at the End of Lane
  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Publisher: headline
  • Year: 2013
  • Pages: 248 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

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4 thoughts on “Neil Gaiman: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (review)

  1. I’ve never read Gaiman but put this book on my christmas wish list having heard so much positive commentary about it. I don’t normally go for anything with fantastical elements so it is a bit of wild card

    • I like fantastical elements/magical realism but I think this one can easily be seen as an account of the world as seen through a child’s eyes. A child with a lot of imagination, yes, but still a child. The more I think about this book, the more I like it!

  2. Nice review! Along with regular reading, I love to listen to audio books on my way to and from work (public library). I’ve read both The Night Circus and The Ocean at the End of the Lane in this manner and both were well done. Especially the second one which was performed by Neil Gaiman, himself. He’s got a great voice! 🙂

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