I don’t often write reviews, mostly because I don’t feel confident in my ability. Yet sometimes, something comes along and I feel compelled to overcome my fears and share my opinion. This happened to be the case when it came to The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman.
Neil Gaiman is a name I’ve heard a lot or over the years and for good reason. He’s prolific in every medium he creates in, from graphic novels to traditional prose. I had just never read anything by him. But a newfound desire to read everything I had missed due to years of Youtube gorging set me on the path towards this book. Once there though this novel wrapped itself around not only who I am but who I once was before I understood 401ks. So much so, that it’s difficult to examine elements of this story without doing the same to myself.
I come from a rather small town with a rather limited library. So, when I decided to follow-up on an eight year old recommendation by a friend, I soon discovered that Neil Gaiman wasn’t exactly well represented. None of his more famous works like American Gods or Sandman were there. In fact the only book they had available was The Ocean At The End Of The Lane.
One of the first images the book offers is of a man fretting over having to explain the various aspects of his life at a family gathering. So much so, that he finds himself driving/wandering away from the event altogether. during this time he notes how thing in his old neighborhood had changed. Now, I’m pretty certain that I am a little younger than the main character, yet I often think back on how things have transformed in my small town. I see the ghosts of old shop signs as well as ones still there that do nothing but announce what had once been.
I suppose I should be used to these sorts of flashes of imagination, I’ve been dealing with them all my life. I’m an only child and while I never really had a shortage of friends, I can’t deny the moments of loneliness and the fantasies I’d plunge into in order to combat that. I consider myself lucky though, especially since I never had a birthday party that no one attended like the main character in this story did. Nor, did I have the other well executed moments that establish the unnamed protagonist as a solitary, yet brave, child. Mine were far more subtle and didn’t instill bravery.
I’m envious of the main character though. Unlike him, I didn’t have faeries and magic to mask the terrible moments that lined my path away from innocence. There was no intelligent and confident Lettie Hempstock to protect me from my own cruel Ursula Monkton. I was twelve when my parents secrets and mistakes ended their marriage. As much as I wish there was, there was no beast of old to combat against. No clear way to set things right, which the main character also learns eventually.
There are certain barriers that need to be crossed though to understand this book completely. It’s very British, or at least that’s how I perceive it. They may have been completely fabricated for this story, but I can’t shake the feeling that the various fantasy elements are steeped in folklore that I’m just not familiar with. If not, then Neil Gaiman deserves a lot of credit for creating things that have volumes of unspoken history. But if there is a basis in the stories passed down it’s a stark reminder of how fearful I became of the world in my teenage years. I spent days and days reading about other countries and their histories, I claimed that I was a student of humanity in all it’s shapes and colors, yet every chance I had to press my fingers against those new worlds, I retreated.
Unlike some authors, Gaiman doesn’t rely on the reader to put meaning to some of the ambiguity present. Things are spelled out to a perfect extent. The novel wraps up with a pondering on whether or not the life lived afterwards, was worthy of the climax of the story. I know someday I’ll have to make a similar investigation with my own life and it will have to be soon. I feel like I can look back on this book as a loose guideline of how to do this.
Ultimately, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is a story of sacrifice and acknowledging that growing up is filled with tragedy. Yet, what’s more important than that is making sure that the life lived as an adult is worthy of the pains experienced as a child. It’s a lesson that I tend to forget as I go on through my days. But, the few moments that I can grasp onto the memory of adolescent mystery are truly special and I consider myself lucky to now have a book that can kickstart that.