Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane | A Rose in Bloom

Some stories are meant to be read over and over, to soak through your skin, to breathe with the inner workings of your mind. Such stories contain prose that remains in your mind for eternity, echoing inside of you, compelling you to return once again. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is such a story. Each sentence quakes inside of you, creating longing for the next phrase. One could easily lose all track of time and read this book in one sitting, it's that riveting. Told through a child’s perspective, the story seamlessly melds the worlds of the protagonist’s memories with his adult consciousness, often making you forget that at the beginning of the story the unnamed protagonist is, in fact, reflecting as a middle aged adult. In Ocean, Neil Gaiman creates a sumptuous repast for the mind that unlocks the inner child hiding in each of our hearts, for this book is childhood in and of itself. 

The story begins with our child, now a grown man having returned home for a funeral, reflecting on his not-so-joyful childhood.. He tends to avoid other children, preferring to memorize songs and make friends in the literary world, claiming that “books [are] safer than people anyway.” However, his life becomes a whirlwind of turmoil when his parents realize they are in a financial crisis and begin to take in boarders, one of which a gambling miner who squanders away his last penny and commits suicide in the family car. The accident allows our child to meet Lettie Hempstock, a little girl who claims to be eleven and lives with her mother and grandmother at the end of the lane with an Ocean in the backyard and a skylight that always shows a full moon. The suicide thins the vale between the human world and another, allowing a malevolence to prey on human desire. Said malevolence implants part of herself into the boy, creating a darkly beautiful struggle between good, evil, and everything in between. And it is more beautiful than I could ever, truly impart to you.

To say Ocean is a fairy tale would not be untrue, but being fair, it is so much more. It is a story for everyone. Just as Gaiman excellently intertwines the adult and child minds of the main character, so we should take all that is willing to remain in our hearts. To be fair though, Gaiman is one the better minds in the fantasy world, making fantasy seem much more accessible and catering to multiple age groups. This book will not be American Gods. It is much more simple and in other ways more complex. Less detailed perhaps, but Ocean feels so much more personal. Below I have included just a few of the very best prose, sure to convince anyone who loves reading to open their mind to the magic of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Nobody looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody.” 

"You don't pass or fail at being a person, dear.” 

My bed was pushed up hard against the wall just below the window. I loved to sleep with the windows open. Rainy nights were the best of all: I would open my windows and put my head on my pillow and close my eyes and feel the wind on my face and listen to the trees sway and creak. There would be raindrops blown onto my face, too, if I was lucky, and I would imagine that I was in my boat on the ocean and that it was swaying with the swell of the sea. I did not imagine that I was a pirate, or that I was going anywhere. I was just on my boat.” 

“'Just go with it. It won't hurt.'

I stared at him. Adults only ever said that when it, whatever it happened to be, was going to hurt so much.” 

And of course:

Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.” 

I can tell I will go back to this book again and again and again.

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