The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups 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 any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.” (p 112)

If you were to do search for The Ocean at the End of the Lane this week, you would surely find hundreds of reviews about it. Dozens of them have been brilliantly written by friends of Neil Gaiman; these people have Opinions about this book being the best Gaiman has ever written and they are worth reading. They know him and they know great literature, and one way or another, they will tell you the same thing I will.

It is a beautiful book, and you should read it.

You don’t really need to read anything else I have to say about it. “It’s a beautiful book, and you should read it” sums up the general consensus. Everything after this point is just…me.

It’s me wondering how hard it has been for Neil Gaiman to carry around this story. The boy in the book is him. Or at least I believe it’s him. In his acknowledgements, he’s quick to say it isn’t, not really, but it is. Maybe the father is not his father and the house is not his house and the monster is not his monster, but all the same, it’s still him more than any of his other books have been.

I’ve been reading his books and blog for long enough to recognize the drain pipe and escapism and quiet, fearful truths as his. He’s been hinting at this book for years, whether he knew it or not. It became obvious as soon as I started to read. The way the man walked down the road in the prologue, or how there was forgiveness in the end, but also a vein of hurt that never completely opened itself up…

It wasn’t so much like finding his diary, though, as it was burrowing into his memory for an hour or two. It was as I imagined Gaiman’s memory to be – eternally struggling between the dark and the light. It frightened me, but I also knew that I would find goodness there. I wanted to protect the child in these pages, but not too much, because I could imagine the man he would grow to be if he was allowed to face down his own fears. This man would write wonderful stories and then read them aloud to weave the magic and hold it there. He would reveal  wonder lurking in all the most ordinary places, even if the luster of it was sometimes worn or sharp-edged or dangerous. He would catch my heart when I was a child and remind me that this was the heart I would always have. I would never grow up, not really, but I would live in the world anyway, and be happy about it, wrapping my hands around the truest truths I understood at seven, and taking them, always, with me.

I have always accepted that this is a world of monsters, although I don’t know if it’s because of how long I’ve been reading books like his, or just who I was meant to be – an anxious believer. In the darkness, there has always been something lurking; it may be an adventure as easily as fear, or it may be a terrible invitation, or it might be just a shadow. The thing about that though, is we need light to see a shadow’s true shape, and to name it. Those troublesome blind spots carve the light into something stronger, and  I wield it, and others do, and then both darkness and light are improved by the struggle.

Which is all just my way of saying, it’s a beautiful book, and you should read it.


For more about Neil Gaiman, go here.

30 thoughts on “The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

  1. Lovely review, you realy capture the emotion of the book. I have never read one of his books but my friend recently lent me ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ and I started in whilst I was still round his house (in the middle of a party). I loved it immediately, he is a fantastic storyteller :-) Will put this on my to-read list too :-) x

    1. I’m a bit obsessed with Gaiman’s work, I have to admit. This is one of my favorite books of the year, and yet it probably wouldn’t crack my top five favorites of his books – his writing is that great :)

  2. This is a really beautiful post. I haven’t read any Neil Gaiman, although I’ve wanted to for a while. I definitely need to read this book!

    1. I can’t really do justice to his writing; it’s just so lovely. This one leans a little toward horror, so if you prefer something lighter, try Stardust. One of my other all-time favorites of his is The Graveyard Book, so that’s also a great one to check out. I would leave Anansi Boys and American Gods for a little later – they take a little more (I’m going to invent a word here) “Gaimanizing” to appreciate – but everything else is fair came for a newbie to his writing. Have fun! :)

    1. Do it! It’s a quick read – maybe three hours? And that way, no one will accidentally spoil it for you online (which happens to me all the time and drives me nuts)!

  3. There’s lots of Gaiman novels on my TBR but I haven’t read any yet. The way you talk about this makes me want to read a couple of his earlier books first, so I can sort of get to know him, then I’d get to enjoy this book the way you did. This is such a great review, so thanks for it. :)

    1. I wholeheartedly agree! Read some of his earlier work (if you let me know what sort of things you like to read, I can recommend a few to start with – he has a wide range and the key is finding the right entrance to his work for each reader) and maybe even check out a few entries on his blog (older are better) to get a feel for who he is. It will make this book resonate so much more.

      1. Well, I actually would find a recommendation very helpful. So thanks loads for offering. I like rather darker literature, like the Picture of Dorian Gray and basically stories that have a classical feel to them. And I love magical realism as long as it doesn’t start meddling with souls and so on. I hope that made sense. :)

        1. In that case, I would say Neverwhere should be your first stop. If you have any interest in really excellent and somewhat disturbing YA/MG fiction, The Graveyard Book and Coraline are both top notch and sort of fit into what you descibed. I have a feeling you’ll also like American Gods, but that one takes a little getting used to, so maybe try one of the others first. I think you’ll also enjoy The Ocean at the End of the Lane because it handles dark magical realism very well.

          I hope this helps, and if you ever feel inclined, let me know how those recommendations work out!

    1. Yay! I’m happy to give you the advice I gave to some of the other commenters because I think it’s important when it comes to Gaiman’s work – if you’re not sure where to start with his books, let me know what you like to read, and I’m happy to offer suggestions. Some of his novels are universally loved, and others are very divisive (for example, I don’t care much for his extremely popular graphic novels; they were too violent for me, but many people adore them above all of his other work) so it helps going in knowing what will make him most accessible to you!

      1. Hmmmm, I like a fairly wide variety of books, so maybe the universally loved ones would be a good starting place. I do enjoy Stephen King, so can handle some violence, but I’m not a big fan in general of graphic novels. The last book I went gaga over was Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Incredibly unique! :). I look forward to your suggestion for Gaiman.

        1. I haven’t read Life After Life, so I went and read a (surprisingly spoiler filled) review of it to try to hone my suggestions. It sounds fascinating and I think I’m going to add it to my list, although I’m a little afraid it might be too disturbing for me. Thoughts? How intense was the violence/rape/etc?

          As far as universally loved Gaiman, I’m going to have to say Stardust is way up there. It’s witty and sweet and interesting and is my all-time favorite. That being said, I think you might also go for American Gods (more complicated, darker, and one the divisive choices – I’ve read it three times and loved it more with every reading). If you ever read YA fiction, The Graveyard Book and Coraline are a must. My oldest Gaiman love is Good Omens (co-written with Terry Pratchett) – like Stardust, plays, again, to his funnier side. That being said, I think you’ll also get into Ocean for its bittersweet darkness.

          Depending on your mood, any of these would be a great place to dive in. If you’d like, feel free to let me know how it goes!

          1. Drat about the spoiler filled review of Life After Life! Honestly, the voilence/rape was (in my opinion) sometimes almost downplayed too much. I mean, it obviously had a very negative effect on the main character, but at the time some of the things happened, she almost seemed to underreact to them. (I think that’s why some of the people didn’t like the main character as much as the supporting ones.) What makes the book interesting, though, is that her character is a better version of herself in some of the options the book takes. There were some “lives” that I wished would go on longer because she was a better person in them. I enjoy unique perspectives and this book definitely didn’t let me down. I think it’s worth reading.

            Thanks for the suggestions for Gaiman! I think I’ll start with Stardust and move on to others from there.
            I will also check out The Graveyard Book and Coraline. I know my daughter read Coraline and liked it. I saw the movie, which I know is often a poor statement for the book.

            I am going to put Stardust on the library hold list as soon as I finish typing. Thanks! :)

  4. Beautifully written review. Gaiman is one of my favourite authors – he has such a way with words – and I’m just waiting to get my hands on a copy of Ocean.

      1. Haha, I know what you mean. On my last blog (before I went on a bit of a break), I just kept reviewing book after book – and then felt guilty because it was starting to resemble a Neil Gaiman fan-site more than a general book blog. :P

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