Review – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Posted January 1, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil GaimanThe Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
Originally reviewed 8th September, 2013

I don’t know how to review this. Skimming other people’s reviews there’s a lot of debate over whether it’s adult/young adult fiction (haven’t seen anyone advocating for “new adult”, or whatever the term is — that is one genre it certainly isn’t, even saying that as someone in my mid-twenties), or about the length. Or people just enthuse (or don’t). It’s certainly a very quick read. As for who it’s suitable for — there’s a quote somewhere in it about myths, about how they’re stories that just are. “I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.” That’s how this felt to me.

It certainly has points best appreciated by different audiences. I don’t know if Diana Wynne Jones was alive to read it in any form, but she would have been an ideal reader for it, I think. There’s something on the mythic level that would appeal to a child (at least one like the narrator, which I think I was — certainly you could say of me that “I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else”). And there’s an adult level, about memory, and forgetting, and nostalgia for childhood. Some of which I think Gaiman is very wise about. For example…:

I do not miss childhood, but I do miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from the things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.

A lot of people think they miss childhood, but they’re looking back at a utopian fantasy. But here Gaiman’s narrator (which people to some extent seem to identify with him himself) is picking out something about childhood that we really do lose: the ability to live in the moment. Or at least, he gets nearer the heart of it than many people do.

Despite that, just as a story… I don’t know how much I enjoyed this. I suspect I’m the wrong age for it, in a way. I’m still a bookish kid at heart in enough ways that I appreciated the mythic aspects, but I think the adult aspects, the question of memory… I think that’ll be more meaningful when I’m older. If it helps to pin down my reaction, I will certainly read this again someday. Right now I do resonate with the brief image we get of the narrator at twenty-four, uncertain and unhappy, searching for reassurance.

The mythic aspect of Gaiman’s world is fascinating: ultimately unknowable, somehow, even as it focuses on mundane things like broken child’s toys and mending clothes. That leaves you with little to get hold of — and, as with many things about this book, I’m ambivalent about that, too.

Rating: 3/5

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6 responses to “Review – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

  1. Ana

    I’m not entirely sure I can ever forgive this book for the death of the kitten at the very beginning (and in particular the way that it’s handled by the narrator’s family). I got to that point while reading on the bus and… completely lost it. Sobbing over my kindle lost it. Other people on the bus backing away from me slowly lost it. I calmed myself down after a few hours and did manage to finish the book, but it was very grudging and I didn’t particularly enjoy it after that point 🙁

    • Eek, you know, I can’t remember that aspect! It’s been a while since I read it now… But I know how it feels, some things can totally spoil a book, right?

      • Ana

        Definitely – I’m actually pretty tolerant when it comes to writing quality (as long as it doesn’t veer into truly problematic territory) and enjoy a lot of different genres and writing styles, but some plot points will just ruin an otherwise perfectly good book. Pet death is one of those things, depending on how it’s handled within the narrative, but it’s not something I usually see warnings about in reviews or by authors. I think this is why content warnings are valuable – I would have overall actually enjoyed the book if I had been at home when I read that part, rather than being completely blindsided while on public transit. The ability to choose if/how/when you’ll read something based on (some) knowledge of the content is really valuable.

        • Yeah, I’m 100% behind the idea of content warnings. I know a lot of people aren’t, for all sorts of reasons, but to me it just makes sense.

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