Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman’s new novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane is ostensibly his first novel for adults in eight years. Though, to my mind, I don’t classify it strictly as such. I think the point of view was the issue — told through the eyes of a man remembering what life was like when he was a seven-year-old boy. Never let it be said that Gaiman makes things easy for his readers. (And that’s a good thing.)
It was a good book. Just, hard to explain in one short teaser paragraph. Here — read on.
Set in England, The Ocean at the End of the Lane opens on our main character (his name is never mentioned, other than a passing reference to the nickname “Handsome George”) escaping from a funeral, probably of his father, mother, or wife, and finding his way to his old homestead. The house is gone now, demolished into a block of flats, but as he gets to the end of the lane he finds himself transported back in his memories to when he was a boy of seven, living on a large piece of property, in the top bedroom with the little yellow hand-basin that was just his size. It was him, his mother, his father, and his younger sister.
And he had a good life. Our Hero was a bookish boy, intelligent and imaginative and somewhat adventurous. But all wasn’t necessarily well at home; to keep up payments on the property, his parents took in lodgers, renting out his old room and forcing him to share with his sister. One lodger accidentally kills his cat, though, and when said lodger turns up dead, that’s when Our Hero meets Lettie Hempstock. Lettie is eleven, and taller, and smarter, and Our Hero wants to know more about her.
The thing is, Lettie and her mother and grandmother, who live down at the end of the lane, are more than meets the eye. They can snip things out of history, and see monsters for what they really are, and when Our Hero’s new governess Ursula Monkton starts her own private little crusade against him, it’s up to him and Lettie to stop her.
I read Ocean pretty quickly — started it on a Friday night, finished it on a Monday night. It’s full of Gaiman’s trademark style, realistic and vivid with little tangents off into things that the main character would really think about. He said he mined the depths of his childhood to flesh out some of the story, although certain parts I’m sure didn’t happen for real. Or maybe they did; I don’t know. I guess only Gaiman and his family have those answers. But the story felt real; even though it was fantasy, it felt as if this was something that could have happened — like The Graveyard Book, it was a small story taking place in a small town, where the outside world doesn’t have much sway over things. The entire story happens on the lane, and really only at Our Hero’s house and Lettie’s house.
I think that might be why I liked the story so much — it was small and rich. I like stories that take place in a small space, with only a few characters, because it gives me the time to really get to know them. And I definitely got to know them — especially Our Hero.
I recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane to any fans of Neil Gaiman’s work, and to anyone who’s ever gone back to the home they loved most as a child and realized that all they can do is remember how it used to be.
Note to Parents: While this book is written from a seven-year-old’s POV, it still contains disturbing imagery, nudity, scenes of child abuse, and discussions of corporal punishment. I’m not sure I can put an age range on this one; just read it first, and then decide if your kids are ready for it. Which, when you get right down to it, is what I always say.
About the Author
Josh Roseman (not the trombonist; the other one) lives in Georgia. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Escape Pod, and the Crossed Genres anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land. His voice has been heard around the fiction podosphere as well, including here on Escape Pod. Find him online at roseplusman.com, or on Twitter @listener42.