This is my second Neil Gaiman book that I’ve ever read and it didn’t take me long at all to fall in love with it. It opens with a middle-aged man on his way to a funeral but wound up in the place where he used to live as a child. He wanders down to the farm at the end of the lane and sits by the pond that his childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock, had convinced him was actually an ocean. And here he starts remembering a strange sequence of memories.
It was beautiful, haunting, and more often than not, unnerving. It brings me a fresh, magical look into how stark the difference between childhood and adulthood is, especially with adolescence taken out of the growth process. It gave a whole new meaning to childhood innocence, corruption, manipulation, temptation, and reality. Too often I asked myself, ‘What the heck is going on?’—but in a good way. However, it didn’t help that this saying was also prevalent (even if it was worded differently in each scene):
“Different people remember things differently, and you’ll not get any two people to remember anything the same, whether they were there or not. You stand two of you lot next to each other, and you could be continents away for all it means anything.”
This is also the first book I’ve read in which the protagonist’s name is never revealed. Never mind the fact that it took me 3/4 of the book to notice this—I am awful at noticing anything at all. Usually, I would be left wondering in the wake of this knowledge. In this case, I didn’t mind in the slightest. It’s not a matter of ‘fitting into the protagonist’s shoes in order to feel what they’re feeling’ type thing. You know how people sometimes say you can’t trust your mind to remember things because you remember it differently every time the memory comes up? It’s like that. This book is told from the middle-aged man’s perspective as a seven-year-old—the age in which he experiences these strange events. Not only is the line between reality and figment of imagination drastically blurred, are we even sure he’s remembering right? Or if the events that happened in his life really did happen?
In fact, this book poses a lot of questions about both the magic and the not. Questions that a child might wonder about the adult world and adults reflecting on how children might see them/how they were like when they were their age. How real are the monsters of our childhood? Is being sensible an act of perseverance or ignorance? Is this how children make sense of the world in which they live in?
The atmosphere is creepy yet hauntingly beautiful at the same time. There weren’t enough hair-raising moments in this so that it would be classified as a horror, but the protagonist’s fascination with the unfathomable and, ultimately, their discomfit and fear permeates throughout the book. Every moment fills you with unease. There’s a feeling in the back of my head— where their reality is on the verge of actuality but at the same time, it doesn’t all click together as it should—that grows with every turn of the page. Nothing is as it seems. Half the time I don’t even know which reality—and I use this term loosely—the protagonist and the Hempstocks are in. Magic and the mundane co-exist yet everything has this dream-like quality about these realities and you don’t fully ‘wake up’ from until you reach the last chapter.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an endlessly fascinating book that has my heart in my mouth even long after it ended. I’m really excited to delve further into Gaiman’s world now. I know I’ve raved about American Gods on this blog before, despite only having read a few chapters of it. But if this is any indication of how massive the imagination this man has, then I am all in.
If you’ve made it this far into my post, then thank you for reading! Have you read this book? If so, what did you think of it? Or if you haven’t, do you have plans to do so in the future? Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time,
The DEVil herself 👹
(Side image taken from here)