The Ocean at the End of the Lane is my first adult Neil Gaiman reading experience. After reading a brief synopsis, I was wholeheartedly skeptical as to whether I would enjoy the novel or not. What I expected was a boring, painfully paced story that would never strike my interest, however, what I received instead was an engrossing tale of magical realism, old world fantasy, and grief.
This is a novel about a middle-aged man who returns to his childhood home upon the death of a relative. During the wake, he takes a break from the crowds to visit a farm at the end of the lane. He comes across a lovely pond on the property, which helps him remember a young girl he knew as a child named Lettie, who had always believed that the small body of water was actually an ocean. Our protagonist sits down by this ocean and begins to reminisce about Lettie and the very special friendship that they had formed.
From the moment that I opened up the first page, I could feel my imagination being swept up in full-bodied depictions of scenery amidst a mournful reminiscence that would reveal a child’s amazing yet bittersweet journey into a realm of magic and friendship.
Gaiman’s prose is absolutely breathtaking. The simplicity with which he creates the atmosphere provides an air that feels almost perfect for a child’s tale. Yet as our middle-aged protagonist finds himself sitting beside a very familiar pond on his neighbor’s property, the story transitions into an exploration of loss and loneliness that’s decidedly quite mature in nature. It’s stunningly elegiac and hauntingly surreal.
The narrative itself is inventive and absorbing, creating a connection between the reader and this child that makes you feel apprehensive for his well-being. I became so invested in what was to come that there were moments where I held my breath without even realizing it. The fantastical facets were morsels of hope, a light in the seemingly dark turn of events, which deepened that connection furthermore.
Magical realism is one of my favourite genres to read. While the more obvious components of the genre didn’t make themselves known until the last thirty pages or so, it was woven with such subtlety that it’s positively sublime.
I feel I must say that were was a scene of child abuse, from the child’s perspective, that was horrifying. It ended up being a trigger for me as I’m a victim of child abuse, which caused me to take a small break to recover from the effect it had on me. While it is a terribly difficult scene to read, it was written in such a way that you can feel everything that is going on as if it’s happening to you in the moment. That sort of environmental build is a rare experience for me in books, and it was something I appreciated very much, personal reaction aside.
Overall, if you don’t mind a book that is a little paced, I would highly recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It’s an ingenious feat of writing with a tale that expresses quite a lot about the power of faith, magic, and friendship, as well as how differently children and adults can perceive a similar situation. My rating for this is four kittens out of five. I knocked it down one star purely for the personal affect it had on me. Objectively, it’s a five out of five hands down.