The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

“I put the other foot into the water and I went down with it, down like a marble statue, and the waves of Lettie Hempstock’s ocean closed over my head.”

The Ocean at the End of the LaneLike the unnamed narrator of Neil Gaiman’s newest novel, the experience I felt while reading the book was one of being enveloped in the world and memories that were created–the ocean closing around me as the story tumbled forward. It would be a shame to read this book as just a simple tale. What Gaiman is getting at is how we remember things; how are memories change from childhood to adulthood; how the sizes and details of our past are malleable. The most obvious is the “ocean” which we soon find out is a duck pond by the Hempstock farm located at the end of the lane from the narrator’s childhood home.

Strange events lead to unworldly ones that are the core of Gaiman’s other works. There are creepy crawlies making their uncanny home in our world but at first appearing as us which is always the most frightening. Within his own house, only the seven year old narrator feels something amiss. “Because she’s not human,” I said. “She’s a monster. She’s a…” Gaiman gives names to these creatures, but it is not their names that are important; they serve as a nightmare for the seven year old protagonist to try to remember forty years later.

As I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I kept thinking about a favorite author of mine as a child–Roald Dahl. His protagonists were kids and they were up against miserable adults out to make their lives a living hell or transform them in some way (I’m thinking mostly of The Witches and Matilda). But what was different about the protagonist of Gaiman’s book (which isn’t necessarily a book for children) is that he appears almost helpless. It is because of his reliance on the Hempstock women that the narrator’s remembrance of childhood events or nightmares is so easily misremembered, re-remembered, and remembered.

This book is a bit different than Gaiman’s previous (or at least the ones I have read) but it still retains the creativity and vividness that he is known for. What starts as a story of a man returning to his childhood home and to the neighbors that he only slightly remembers becomes an engaging tale that is weaved and reweaved to keep the readers on their toes.

The narrator makes an apt statement about myth,

“I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.”

In these short lines, Gaiman has described exactly what this book is. The memories that are stitched clearly at times and foggy at others are done with uniqueness and beg to be read thoughtfully. I am curious to see a child read this book now and in four decades, like the narrator himself, try to recall what he had read. How would he tell this story?

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12 comments

    1. Thank you! I do hope you read it. There was something so unique but also Gaiman-esque about it. I tried not to read too much about it or reviews beforehand which I think made me enjoy it even more–it was like walking into a room and not knowing what to expect.

  1. Just finished it, too. It reminded me of his Sandman work (in tone, rather than details) more than it did his other prose work that I’ve read. Not that that’s a bad thing, at all.

    1. I’m glad you liked. I know it will be one that I reread at some point. Hopefully, I will have misremembered and remembered bits and will be happily surprised when I journey through it again.

  2. “…how the sizes and details of our past are malleable.” What a gorgeous observation–and so true! I love that insight about the size of the pond and the size of the memories being difficult to define…

    1. Thanks (and also thanks for linking to me on your review!). I thought this book was very special because of the inability to pinpoint just what it was as well as favorite topic of mine–remembering or (mis)remembering/unreliability vs reliability.

  3. Like you wrote on my post and in the above comment. One thing that is so special is that it is hard to pinpoint what theme struck me most: loss, remembrance, perceptions, childhood.

    Anyway what a lovely post! I esp like how you wrote about “the ocean closing around us as the story tumbled forward.” It did feel like that.
    Sarah @WordHits
    p.s. This also totally reminded me of Roald Dahl!! Did you know that he added the childcatcher to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as it was not in Flemings book?!

    1. Thanks! I, too, liked the stumbling forward line (if I do say so myself). I rarely ever talk about book covers but the artist for the US edition did a phenomenal job capturing that feeling of being submerged in the story and trying to pull yourself out.
      Also, I didn’t know that about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I always forget that he has adapted a couple of Fleming books for the screen.

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