The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
I saw Neil Gaiman a couple months ago at Carnegie Hall. We weren’t hanging out or anything. He was reading his new book in front of a scrolling powerpoint of macabre sketches, accompanied by a four-piece string quartet.
That’s where I got my autographed copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I promptly added to an already-teetering pile next to my bookshelf.
I’ve held off on including a Gaiman book here. I’m not sure why because I love Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book, and they equally deserve to be included, but until now I’m not sure I could justly describe the dark humanity that is endemic of Gaiman’s books.
Gaiman writes the stuff of nightmares, and I don’t mean the gruesome horror prevalent in every movie theatre within a five-mile radius. I mean, the real nightmares, the ones that are too sad, too frightening, and too harrowing to admit that we ourselves have - because to do so would be to admit that we all only had one childhood, we all only have one life, and we are all going to die. The kind of nightmare that makes B movies look like distractions.
“Harrowing” is a great term to start describing The Ocean at the End of the Lane. A man returns to his childhood home for a funeral, and finds himself reflecting on events of his youth as he sits by a pond behind the farm of his childhood friend. When my friend told me this synopsis, I quickly threw the book in a pile of those-yet-to-be-read and forgot about it. Because reading about a guy going to a funeral isn’t high on my list of interesting plotlines. Is the book about that? No, not at all. And in a way, it’s completely about that.
The book is scary, sure. But what makes it scary is not the dark. What makes it scary is the light. Gaiman, as an adult, writes with the preserved-innocence of a child. If we have forgotten the wonder, the imagination, and the helplessness of our youth, Gaiman has been remembering it for all of us. And it is this that he includes in his books. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the story between childhood and adulthood. It’s a story that is too scary to remember but too important to forget.
It includes countless gems of childhood wisdom, of worry, of wonder like, “Adults take paths. Children explore.”
And at the end of the book, I’m not sure what just happened. Was it all true? Was it just the fantastical interpretation of a child? But in the end, it doesn’t matter, because Gaiman is still speaking to my very core when he writes: “You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.”
And that, my friend, is my biggest nightmare of all.
The kind of reviews that make it worth writing.