I must admit that I had no shortage of reservations before I began reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. My literary man crush with Neil Gaiman has been a touch tricky over the years, more often college love affair than adult romance. As with all tumultuous relationships I was reluctant to start things up again after having had a long, peaceful break. And as with all tumultuous relationships the lure of excitement overwhelmed the fear of heartache. So I convinced myself, unbeknownst to my friends, that a proverbial cup of coffee with my former lover would do no harm and warily waded into The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
I first met Neil in American Gods and was immediately smitten. I unequivocally loved that book. There are books one enjoys and there are books one is driven to continue reading until there is no page left to turn and for me, American Gods, was most definitely the latter.
I hadn’t been this excited about a new (to me) author since I discovered Heinlein almost twenty years ago so I immediately delved into the Neil Gaiman bibliography looking for more gems. Not that one night stands are necessarily bad, but I knew I wanted more from this new infatuation. I followed American Gods with The Graveyard Book and my lust for Gaiman was emboldened. Already silly thoughts of this getting serious were percolating in my mind as I was equally enchanted by both his adult and children’s fare.
Relishing the afterglow of what was potentially becoming a prolonged love affair I embarked on Coraline, one of Neil’s more famous titles, and was shocked to find myself disappointed. I just didn’t like that book at all. So many raves for this book and here I was grappling with the possibility that I disliked it, perhaps even hated it. This was the moment when you discover a new love has a promiscuous past that leaves you suddenly re-evaluating the entire relationship. Confused and a tad bruised I walked away from Neil Gaiman for awhile; a couple years, in fact.
Then recently, almost accidentally, I learned of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and felt it was time to put hurt feelings aside and try Neil again. And boy I’m glad I did. This book was just a pleasure to read. I am back in love with Neil Gaiman (As confirmation of my rekindled passion I read Anansi Boys right after and adored it).
This book fits into a nice little niche somewhere between a children’s tale akin to The Graveyard Book and a purely adult novel. On one hand, most of the story is spent reminiscing about a man’s childhood and the magical creatures and fantastical events therein. On the other hand, we are treated to a scene where the protagonist, as a child, discovers his father pleasuring the nanny from behind up against the fireplace. Yes, the nanny is a mysterious monster in human form, a scary campfire story staple, but sex from behind is most definitely for the grownups.
Regardless of classification, it’s a joy to read. Quickly paced and pleasantly short at only 192 pages, a rarity in a world of monolithic epics serving no purpose other than stroking the author’s ego. I found the characters are very engaging; never too heroic and never too victimized, never too quirky and never too common. The setting is striking but also comforting. It tweaked my nostalgic yearnings for a simpler, rural time and place but wasn’t obnoxiously romantic. And while the book was set in England this setting and atmosphere was easily translatable to my Canadian upbringing.
I’m rather fond of stories that philosophize and needle at my comfort zone. I treasure books that wow my mind with new concepts and cause me to rethink and revalue things much like my first experiences with Heinlein almost twenty years ago now. Not that there isn’t a place for simple, selfish entertainment in my reading.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane was neither type of book, really. There was no lecturing or great philosophy within and yet the epilogue left you thinking deeply. There was a heft to it that will move each reader uniquely. Mostly, though, I just felt a sense of joy when I finished this book. It was truly a pleasure to read for no other reason than the pleasure of reading. Quality writing and an engaging story, this was comfort food for a reader; a cozy night huddled by the fire with my literary man crush.
I’d recommend this book to anyone and give it 4 1/2 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. It combines the quirky, youthful fun of The Graveyard Book with the more adult themes that the American Gods fans will appreciate. Gaiman fans should love it but this would also be a great introduction for those who’ve never delved into the amazing world of Neil Gaiman. And for me personally, it’s a little love letter from Neil telling me he’s sorry for hurting my feelings and wishing to get back together again. I’m inclined to say yes. Wholeheartedly, yes.
If you enjoyed this review you might also like this review of Redshirts.