Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This is a stand-alone fantasy for most ages. I picked this up at the bookstore once when I was going on a rampage buying spree.  This is the second Neil Gaiman book I’ve read; I read Stardust last year finally after loving the movie adaptation so much – the movie was pretty accurate to the book and the book is great, but this is one where I might actually say I liked the movie better.  Anyways, the summary of this book really drew me in and because I felt it would hit the spot when I’m in the mood for a short stand-alone fantasy that’s, for once, not a romance.

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Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

I had been bringing this book with me on every trip for almost a year and finally actually cracked it opened a during trip to Colorado this spring to visit my first nephew after he was born. I’m really glad I read it, it definitely fits in well with my bookshelf and the genres I gravitate towards.

This book reminded me a bit of the feels I got from A Wrinkle in Time, Tuck Everlasting, and this series that idk if anyone else has heard of by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor dubbed the Witch Saga, starting with Witch’s Sister. Though those books are more middle grade books, the main character of this book is 7yrs old during all the action, reminiscing as a middle aged man, which is why I think this book has much in common with those others.

The magic of this story is really in the matter of fact nature that it’s written. The characters don’t describe the how’s and why’s of everything, or really the what’s either, even to each other.  The audience has about as much information at the main character who takes everything in from a kid’s perspective of just accepting what is, even if it’s otherworldly things he’s experiencing

I’ve been mulling this one over for a while to decide what I really think it’s “all about” but  I actually kind of like the feeling of being unsure that this book gives you.  I want more, and more explanations but this is book just gives you a quick peek into it’s world with basically no explanation at all, you just have to accept and deal just as the main character does. He never pushes for more and as an audience we can’t either.

The main character and his whole family never get names! I didn’t even realize this until I was reading the end of the book discussion with the author and I was like whaaaa.. again it just adds to you as an audience really only getting a tiny peek into this character’s world and experiences.

The characters of Lettie, her mother and grandmother have some allusions to the maiden, mother, and crone archetypes and I think there is a valid argument for that case but ultimately with the “accept at face value and don’t look further” tone of the novel it almost doesn’t matter – you feel compelled to just accept what these characters give you and not look behind the curtain.

The ending where the main character is realizing and then forgetting things really messed with me because it’s like “what’s real?!” but it’s definitely intentional and I think makes this story stronger and something that will stick with you long after you’ve finished reading.

Recommend for fans of fantasy, magical realism, and Gaiman.

4 stars!

7 comments

  1. Ahhh I LOVE this book! I read it not long ago and was completely blown away. And I completely agree! It’s really interesting hearing this from a kid’s perspective because he accepts everything at face value, but as a reader you KNOW there’s more to the story that you’re not hearing. But it’s beautifully written and that ending was so sad but genius too. UGH.

    And no names! I didn’t even realize we didn’t get the character’s names until I went to write my review. And then I was like, OMG 😳 Lol. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • One thing is for sure is that it definitely makes me want to pick up more from Gaiman. The no character name’s is so weird! I wonder if other books have done this and I just didn’t notice!

      Like

  2. I totally agree with you on that the lack of explanation and kind of confusion about what’s happening was great in a way! I mean, I want to understand what the heck I just read (I’m still not sure tbh), but also it was really cool to just go along with it!

    And oh god, I only JUST realized that that family doesn’t have names. How did I not notice this while reading the book AND writing my review… I actually think this is the first review of this book I’ve read that has mentioned it, too! Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah isn’t that bonkers about the names?! I don’t know if I would have realized either if not for reading the discussion with the author in the back of the book lol and now I’m curious if other books have done this and I just didn’t noticed

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