Let me begin with an “I love Neil Gaiman.” I want to be completely honest about the potential bias (though I don’t think it exists here). Gaiman’s writing is everything I love when reading. Now, let’s move on.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story of childhood reminiscence. Our unnamed protagonist and narrator finds himself in his childhood hometown for a funeral. In an attempt to get some peace of mind and fresh air, he drives himself to the neighborhood where his childhood home no longer exists but Hempstock Farm, at the end of the lane, still does.
As he sits by the “ocean” in the Hempstocks’ backyard, he remembers a stint of time from a childhood long forgotten. His memories take him through a journey of suicides, babysitters, family, and fantastic beasts too incredible for him to truly believe. Yet as it all rushes back to him, he cannot help but know that it is all truth from a past life.
As I read this book, I really felt that I was immersed in the adventure of a seven year-old. This was both good and bad. It was good in that the protagonist is indeed a seven year-old for the vast majority of the story, so it’s nice to feel as if it’s a seven year-old’s story. It was bad in that it really felt like a seven year-old was telling the story. The plot description often times felt bland, the characters seemed shallow and the overall emotional depth of the story was fairly lacking.
That’s not to say I hated the book. As I said, I was immersed in the adventure and it took me back to my days as a small chap, running around the yard and battling the monsters of my imagination. This might just be one of my favorite aspects of this book and all of Gaiman’s other works: I lost myself in it. I was running a step behind the protagonist the entire time, with a smile plastered to my face, watching his story unfold. It was fun to read, even if it wasn’t a deep read.
Perhaps I should also mention that my complaints of the story didn’t surface until my second reading. I actually feel that it’s crucial to mention this because my first time reading through it I was thoroughly captivated by the tale and finished it with a grin. On the flip side of that coin, it isn’t a story that keeps you really thinking after you’re done. It’s a fun read with a taste of nostalgia and that’s about all I can really say about it.
I definitely wouldn’t shy away from the book, especially with how easy it is to get through, but I wouldn’t add it to my must read list either.
Reviewed by Bryce Grant