Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Headline Review, 2013
As a die-hard Neil Gaiman fan, I’ve often felt that his The Sandman comic book series published by Vertigo was a tough act to follow. I admit that, for me, most of his subsequent works have paled in comparison to that epic.
That hasn’t made me love his writing any less, for Gaiman has a way of approaching storytelling that sets him apart from most. If I’m put on the spot I struggle to say what it is exactly that draws me to Gaiman’s writing except that it resonates deeply with me.
I’m happy to report, however, that The Ocean at the End of the Lane hits the mark for me the same way The Sandman does, and the author has recaptured that mythical essence that had me enthralled the same way the Lord of Dreams had me bewitched.
Whether it was that Gaiman was writing from the heart, or he simply tapped into the right creative current at the right time, it hardly matters. What you’ll hold in your hands is the work of a master craftsman.
The story and the writing seems simple: we follow our narrator along a journey into his childhood. All we are told is that there has been a death in the family, though it’s implied it might have been the father.
Fuelled by nostalgia, the narrator explores past haunts and returns to the Hempstock farm where he recalls incidents that occurred when he was seven. What we are reminded of is the fluidity of memory and how these remembrances evolve depending on our perspective.
Thought the majority of this story is told by a seven-year-old, and could be read by children as well, this is not strictly speaking a children’s story. The Maurice Sendak quote at the start of the book is on the mark: “I remember my own childhood vividly… I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.”
The Ocean at the end of the Lane is a tale filled with powerful archetypes, be it images of the Triple Goddess or the eternal ocean that links all things. This is more than just a story about childhood, and coming to terms with
the fact that the world is a dangerous, unpredictable place.
Gaiman tells us that even as grownups we don’t have all the answers, yet we’re poorer for having lost that childlike sense of wonder. This is a story for those who still dare to dream or for those who might have forgotten how.