Book Review: Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’

This will be a space to write reviews/thoughts/musings of books that I have read recently. I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum. All books rated on a scale of 1-5. Today’s review will discuss Neil Gaiman’s 2013 novel ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’.

For years, British author Neil Gaiman has been making a name for himself, carving out a niche all his own–first with the graphic novel Sandman series, and then with a series of incredibly successful books, Gaiman’s unique brand of fantasy, humor and incredible imagination has built worlds on the pages of his books and legions of loyal fans in the real world.

Adventure novels like Neverwhere took readers to a fantastic world in the tunnels underneath London, the legendary American Gods puts faces to names of Gods new and old and his young adult novel Coraline, about a discontent girl who finds a secret path to a new family identical to her own but with buttons instead of eyes, managed to hit a strange nerve where kids loved it while it scared the shit out of their parents.

Last year, Gaiman was back with a new adventure in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a fun look back on childhood and interesting take on imagination. The protagonist, who is reminiscing about his childhood after returning to his hometown following the death of one of his parents, takes us on a riveting journey through the eyes of a 10-year-old version of himself. The book is filled with Gaiman-style imagination, featuring world-eating birds, mysterious neighbors and household visitors who are not quite what they seem. It’s a fun, quick adventure that manages to take the reader to many places without actually ever leaving our protagonist’s neighborhood a single time.

The book is evocative and nostalgic, and raises the question of what happened to our imaginations as we got older. The games we play, the type of books we read, the adventures we go on are forgotten as we get older–this subject is brought up numerous times as the young version of our unnamed protagonist wonders what makes adults lose interest in stories about bandits and pirates and treasure hunts. Gaiman proposes that we’re all still kids, that we’re faking it:

“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. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

Gaiman has been known for his endings perhaps not being the most compelling parts of his stories (my one quibble with American Gods was it seeming to lose steam in the last act) and this one, too, at the climax tails off a bit in quality, but it quickly regroups in the epilogue and effectively sticks the landing. Some may be bothered by his protagonist’s lack of personality and assertiveness (like many Gaiman leads, the character has things happen to him rather than him being the one making things happen; other characters drive the plot here) but in this case, it works.

It’s an interesting subject and Gaiman is showing off his chops here as a natural storyteller, pulling off a book featuring a child protagonist and childhood adventure but clearly written for us so-called ‘grown-ups’.  It may not be his best book, but it is a great, light adventure, and well worth your time. That is, so long as you’re not too much of a grown-up to lose yourself in a story.

 

Rating: ****

 

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