Book Review | The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Book Review | The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Book Review | The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Oh mercy, has Gaiman has crafted an absolute gem with this one! This will be my first book review, and it's one that has been almost a week in the making, and I have to say that I couldn't have chosen a more befitting novel for a first review if I tried! Spoiler alerts are accounted for! With that, let's begin...


Based in Sussex, England, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story of magical realism told from the point of view of the narrator: a grown man with a wife and children who went back to his childhood town for a family funeral (the funeral for whom the reader never finds out; this is said to have been done purposely by Gaiman). The man is having recollections of being a young boy decades back, a boy finding his humanity through living in a slightly dysfunctional household with his parents and sister, and he soon encounters a maze of memories and events when he befriends a young girl named Lettie Hempstock. So, in this book, as scraps of fabric are torn away from the space of time, we really do see that the story really is about how memories change throughout a person’s life, and how their vision of humanity could change: those memories may become fuzzy, blurry, and vague. So, here's a question: Are our memories as solid and concrete as they once were as we grow older? Another one for the road: Were they ever solid and concrete to begin with?

Overall, I see Ocean as more personal of a story than Stardust, and seems less ‘mass-market give everyone what they want’, the latter being akin to what I unfortunately perceived while reading Stardust, and it just didn't resonate with me in the way that Ocean did. I think Gaiman was definitely gearing to a particular audience when he wrote Ocean, because I don’t see this as being a book that everyone will appreciate, or a book that is for everyone. Someone with more life experience than my 25-year old self could really get the most out of the implicit philosophical allegory that is strewn throughout this book, moreso than a child would get. So, is it a children's book that adults can read, or is it an adult's book that children can read? I see it as interchangeable, either-or, and entirely upon the individual, to be honest.

Allegory and Writing Style

The allegory of the novel doesn't have any religious tones, but moreso a philosophical introspection and also lends to an existential school of thought (as Lettie says, in my own words, gaining all the knowledge in the universe doesn't mean everything to everyone). I certainly know that I got something out of reading this! It pulls you into its depths, and it’s a story that demands simplicity of thought based upon the likened writing style. Gaiman can get fanciful with his vocabulary and writing style, but only when it's necessary - nothing like the late Lovecraft or Poe with their oftentimes taxing writing styles of flowery language (although those two size up as being some of my favorite short-story horror authors). This is a story that bases itself around sacrifice, nostalgia and memories. Many people don’t see nostalgia as an ambitious or progressive means of thought, however it's sometimes vital to discovering one's true self, and is a way to gain receptiveness of the world around you, so I'm going to disagree with the notion that being nostalgic isn't necessarily the equivalent of the low-brow condescending phrase 'living in the past.' However, I'll get to that another time. I'm veering off-subject and am seeing a soapbox in the near distance that I need to get away from. 😁

Imagery and Tone

There is some imagery and implications of slightly adulterous activity in Ocean that are very much present, and even though the allusions to such activities are kept at a very tame level, I don’t see this being a book suitable for, say, an 8 year old. I found the tones in the story to be a combination of dissociation, bleakness, confusion, and ambiguity, and it heavily leans towards the ‘monster’ realm and the imagery can easily be a bit nightmarish and unsettling for anyone of such an impressionable mind. That doesn’t take maturity into account, of course. 😄 Some of the scenes low-key creeped even myself out, I must say, and I’m not creeped out very easily...

Gaiman’s haunting, fluid prose and his immersion of the narrator’s recollections of his childhood give us an idea of the amount of dissonance in the boy’s family and how he lived in such loneliness and isolation and kept to his bookish habits, along with the reminiscing of happier memories of his ‘room with the yellow washbasin’ when his parents were more financially stable and more involved in his life.


Everything began with an opal miner who took lodging in the family’s house, and mysterious events with him led to the introductions of Lettie Hempstock and her family (Mrs. Hempstock and Old Mrs. Hempstock) who live on a farm at the end of the lane, and were introduced to both the boy and to the reader simultaneously, so we find everything out about them as our main character does. We know nothing that our main character doesn't know. The story is also very linear in its development. Oh and a side note: Old Mrs. Hempstock was my personal favorite character in the story for her witty remarks, wisdom and candor.

As far as the antagonist goes, Ursula Monkton was introduced to us in the form of a twisted, tattered pink-and-grey colored tent that the boy and Lettie encountered from the ‘other world’. Ursula is a symbol of space, time, and in some ways, desires, but her motive in the narrative in the end had still remained unclear. Spoiler: She intended to exist to give everyone what they ultimately wanted, even if it were in such a beguiling, deceptive manner (such as the boy’s foot being the open door for her to get into his life) but her character never reached the last stage of development - because of the Varmints, she just ceased to exist. In part of her last caps-locked bold-faced pleading words to the hunger birds, she had said she had just wanted company, but for all of eternity? Just some loose ends there that were never fully tied. (End Spoiler)


This was overall a quirky, masterfully written story that draws the reader into their inner childhood thoughts and really bases itself around sacrificial love, memories, and a nice overt element of magical realism. Gaiman’s storytelling and descriptive abilities in this one really solidified it for me - needless to say, I need to read more of his works. I would’ve loved for this to have been out in the 90's, so that I could've read it as a youngster!

I don't particularly like to rate books on a numerical scale, so I'll just say I gave this a really liked it rating on Goodreads. 😃

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