The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Book of the Year 2013 (see all)
This may sound slightly biased, but I am always excited to read a Neil Gaiman story and as soon as I had read the prologue to this story I knew I was already hooked and looking forward to the adventure this book would take me on. The prologue itself serves as a reminder that some memories, however hidden, are not truly forgotten, but may just need a gentle reminder. In this story we follow the Narrator down memory lane, to when the Boy (the Narrator) met the Hempstocks and the events leading up and around that first meeting, which is all told from the perspective of a remarkable intelligent 7 year old.
The Boy, when we meet him, is fairly content. Although seemingly friendless, he is happy with his new kitten Fluffy and enjoying the fact that he can disappear into stories. His life changes when his parents have to start allowing lodgers to live in their home for the extra cash. Through this he gets to meet the Hempstocks, who apart from the animals, are the only named characters. After the Boy’s family car is stolen he meets Lettie Hempstock who is a couple of years older than him, her mother Mrs Hempstock and Old Mrs Hempstock, her grandmother. These three women remind me of the three fates: The Maiden, The Mother and the Crone, who is some stories weave the fates of heroes. The Hempstock’s are fascinating characters who give the Boy a safe harbour without ever fully explaining anything to him, in his troubled times.
And these are troubled times indeed for this Boy who has to come to terms with the fact that monsters do exist. With the Hempstock’s he knows they will believe him, whereas to his parents as Grown Ups he doesn’t feel he can tell them what is going on as they may not believe him. As a child shouldn’t everything be magical? Even if that sometimes makes things terrifying? We all go through stages as children when we can believe there is a monster under our beds and feel comfort from having a hall light switched on as we go to sleep. The Boy’s story is relatable on many levels and Neil Gaiman has managed to mix the fantastic with the mundane, so each line as written takes us one step further on not just the Boy’s journey but our own.
Michelle Herbert, 10/10
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the latest novel from Neil Gaiman, and in my opinion one of his best. The blurb does this book a disservice by describing it a fable that will reshape modern fantasy (it doesn't and it's not trying to) - this book is a deeply personal reminiscence by the author, infused with fantastical and horrific elements, and what you get out of it as a reader depends entirely on how well you are able to connect with it.
The story follows a 47 year old man who, in his escape from a funeral, finds himself exploring the old neighbourhood / farmlands where he grew up. As he travels down towards the house at the end of the lane, he starts reminiscing about his seven year old self, remembering what this journey down the lane used to feel like. When he sits by the pond at the end of the lane, the memories start flooding back - fantastical memories full of magical beings and hidden worlds, and Lettie Hempstock, the girl who thinks this pond is actually an ocean.
It's hard to know where to start talking about a book like The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is a tale that starts as a reminiscence of long lost childhood, but then it evolves into something akin to magic realism - the magic of childhood manifested as real magic. There is a depth of emotion here that is enhanced by magic - remembering the good times creates a sense of warmth and comfort, while remembering the bad times creates a sense of horror and dread. It is a story that is trying to make you feel something, but what you feel and depth to which you feel it will be completely unique to you.
I know this review doesn't really tell you what the book is about, but I think to do so in more detail would spoil what is supposed to be an intimate trip down memory lane to a time when things were much more fantastical than what they are now. This a story that is simple on the surface, but with a depth of immersion that depends entirely on how much you connect with the story. My guess is that the further you are away from your childhood, be it through age or experience, the more you will connect with this story and the more you will fall in love with it.
Ryan Lawler, 9.5/10
There are times when a reviewer simply needs to go have a troll through some of the other reviews in an effort to get an idea of what people are saying about a book. ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ by Neil Gaiman seems to be reviewing rather well – receiving 4.4 stars out of 5 from 568 customer reviews on Amazon.com and 4.25 out of 5 stars on Goodreads with 19,969 ratings.
Which leaves me feeling a little like the odd-duck out, considering I didn’t feel the same obsessive-compulsive love for it that so many others have.
Billed as Gaiman’s first adult book since ‘Anansi Boys’, I can see why some would be confused by the intended audience. While the book does revolve around a 7 year-old Neil Gaiman, the book is definitely a book of reminiscence, rather than a book for young adults or teenagers.
I was disappointed with this book, though not for some of the reasons I have seen others voice. I rather liked the story, as it had the sense of childhood fantasy that is simply lost when you grow up. The characters were rich and there was no happy ending, all of which makes for a very realistic tale.
However I simply feel that Neil Gaiman tried too hard to make this book a competitor for ‘The Night Circus’ or something similar. Overly wordy sentences and paragraphs abound, in this book. The “authentic and compelling”-ness that so many reviewers are commenting on seems dumped on top, rather than grown from the bottom up, as if Gaiman wanted to write a “genuine” book and therefore tried so hard to write one that he forgot how to let it be genuine.
It took me a long time to read this book, though it should have been a quick read, given its size and readability. I imagine that many will enjoy this book thoroughly, and I do recommend it to you; but I caution you to allow your own thoughts to praise the book, and not the pressure of the thousands and popular-literati.
Joshua S Hill, 7/10
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The Ocean at the End of the Lane reader reviews
David from United Kingdom
The Ocean at the End of The Lane is, I think, Gaiman's most personal novel to date. A hauntingly beautiful tale of a seven year old boy and his brush with the nightmare world that lives just below the surface of reality, this is the type of book that will stay with you for ages after you have finished it. The protagonist revisits his old childhood haunts after a funeral and finds himself remembering a half-forgotten episode from his childhood. We meet the Hempstocks, three women (well, a girl and two women who are obvious representations of the Maid, Mother, Crone triple goddess beloved of our pagan ancestors) who seem to live out of time, yet are as old, if not older than time itself. There is a death which sets off a chain reaction of events with our seven year old hero at the centre. It is a simple story of sacrifice and the way an innocent action can unleash a whirlwind of consequences. The prose has a dreamlike, even nightmare quality to it at times, as the things that live on the shadowy borders of our imaginations come rushing in. Gaiman has the ability to tell the tale through a young boy's eyes and make it work. It is wonderful writing. I used to say that American Gods was his masterpiece. I think he has just surpassed himself. Very highly recommended.
Allison from US
There are a few moments of genuine pleasure while reading this novel, but overall the bombastic diction detracts considerably from the tale. . . as well as the lack of definitive characterization of anyone other than the protagonist. At times, the mind of the 7 year old boy is charming; more often the verbosity of the prose cancels those pleasures.
7.7/10 from 3 reviews
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