Neil Gaiman is without a doubt one of the most influential modern fantasy writers active today. Rather it is his hit comic Sandman, his metaphor-filled American Gods, or one of my favorites the adorable Stardust. Gaiman has a distinct ability to craft very different stories using the backdrop of modern fantasy, this world of magic and wonder veiled behind the everyday grind. Neverwhere does this near perfectly with London Below, a place of danger and angels that exists invisible to most of the citizens as they go about their day. Though a fan of many of his works one has always stood a bit higher than the others, a haunting, enlightening tale of a man reflecting on his childhood, and reliving the terror of being a child with no power. I am of course talking about The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, a book that to me cemented Gaiman as an all-time great.
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane follows an unnamed narrator who returns to his childhood home of Sussex England for the funeral of his father. While there he visits the place where he grew up, a house that is no longer there before finding himself at the farm at the end of the lane owned by the Hempstock family. It is there, as he sits in front of a pond he recalls as Lettie Hempstock’s ocean the past of his childhood comes flooding into him, a suicide that would spark a chain of events in the little boy’s life of magic, terror, and forces of nature beyond comprehension. But not all is lost, as Lettie Hempstock, wise beyond her years is there to protect the boy, and promises that as long as she is there no harm will come to him.
What follows is a masterclass storytelling of a seven-year-old boy whose life he has no control over spirals in every way possible, full of adults who refuse to believe him. A new nanny who is much more a monster than a woman and a family struggling to keep their bond together as forces try to tear them apart. That is where the beauty of the story really shines to me. It is a mixture of anxiety-driven helplessness paired with an elegant reflection on one’s life, an adult perspective on adolescence wonders and horrors.
As I mentioned I hold this series as my all-time favorite Gaiman novel and I do so for reasons I hope I can convey well enough in these words. To put it plainly, books rarely scare me. I’ve read quite a bit of horror novels, and mystery thrillers but time and time again I usually predict the ending (it’s as annoying as it sounds), and most of the themes in modern horror I just can’t really relate to. Thinking back the only other book I read that made me feel as uncomfortable as Ocean was Unwind, I was in high school and for some reason, that book just really fucked with me, if I went back as a 28-year-old man, who knows. But I digress, the point I am wanting to make clear is I do not consider Ocean a horror novel due to the fact the anxiety and danger are in the form of a flashback, it is a grown man coming to the realization of how terrifying being a seven-year-old boy actually was. It is within that both Gaiman paints one of his most vibrant stories that resonated with me on a level I never had experienced until I was pages into the book. I now, recall quite vividly what it was like to be a silly child with their silly games and notions to never be believed by the adults that for all purposes should be there to protect them.
Gaiman paints this magical realism nostalgic story very well in this context as the narrator is confronted with something he sees as a clear injustice, as something paranormal and ultimately dangerous but as his sister and father quickly become fond of this new housekeeper that goes by Ursula Monkton the narrator is even more pushed out of what he has only known as his home, watching in powerless dread as everyone around him including his family is taken by this unknown and scary power. That is of course expect of the Hempstocks, wise in ways no human could ever be. What I think Gaiman truly accomplishes with this book is equal parts anxiety-driven, magical world-building, and nostalgic. From start to finish every narration turn seems to connect a larger puzzle that always comes back to this grown man, sitting in front of a pond near his now demolished childhood home only back in town to attend a funeral. A man whose childhood is like thin strings in the wind, only coming together in those moments he finds himself back at Lettie’s ocean, something that comes back to him in a wave but, as he returns to being an adult, back to his life once again return to strings in the wind. Much like fleeting thoughts do as the years go by and we get older.
Expect those cringe awkward ones that come up from time to time randomly, hanging in the back of one’s mind just waiting to make them grimace.
There is no doubt Neil Gaiman is a very talented writer at a very high level and someone who has made and crafted some of my favorite stories to date. But something about The Ocean At The End Of The Lane hit a different cord that has never been played upon before. A tale that looks at the innocent helplessness of adolescents, full of magic that dies once we grow too old for such silly things. When the nightmare stop, old friends vanish with time and we are left with the strings.
I have been struggling greatly with these book reviews, it was a massive back and forth with myself if I was even going to bring them to Otakupost and as I write them and try to work out the kinks I hope my quality will improve and these words will actually convey with clarity my true thoughts on printed text. Anime has been something that has been in my life for a long time, something I like to think I greatly understand, novels, sadly, isn’t. I didn’t start reading regularly until I was well into my 20s and even then I just started reading 30+ books a year last year so any criticism would be appreciated.
Ultimately I want to make content I’m proud of that others can enjoy, and I do not feel these book comments are quite there but I will continue to work. On that note, anime content is returning soon thanks to Persona 5 Royal. As always thanks for the read!