Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

An adult fairy tale by Neil Gaiman
An adult fairy tale by Neil Gaiman

Four of Five Stars

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, is an ‘adult’ fairy tale novel (a novella, really, or close to it) that follows a middle-aged narrator who is inexplicably drawn back to the lane he grew up on. It was here, some years ago, that he met Lettie Hempstock (an eleven-year-old girl who has been eleven-years-old a long time) and a hidden world of demons (Fleas, varmints, as the Hempstock family calls them) is revealed to him. Sometimes these creatures make their way into our world and its up to the Hempstocks to put them back where they belong. He accompanies Lettie on one such mission and unknowingly brings evil back to his family.

Gaiman has a thing for mirrors and this shows in the structure of this narrative: One one hand we have the classic battle of good and evil being fought by a matriarchal, ageless family of female farmers. On the other hand, the narrator fights through the reality of his broken family. Our world mirrors the world of the Hempstocks and their creatures just like our petty motivations and faults do as well.

The story does a great job capturing the confusion of the human experience — the drifting currents within which we find ourselves immersed. Whether as an adult or as a child, the narrator takes some time to work through the murky interpretation of memory and reality.

At 180 or so pages it may seem a stretch to say that the story feels weighted at times and directionless, but it does. In a weird way this matches the point I take from the story, but it does at times hinder the reading experience.

A solid and brief experience. Worth reading, especially if you are looking to get into the swing of reading again.