Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

19 September, 2013 Reviews 10 comments

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil GaimanThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Series: Standalone
Published by William Morrow Books on 18th June 2013
Pages: 192
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Horror
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.

His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.

Neil Gaiman is the sort of author whom I always mean to read, and yet never actually get around to picking up.

I’ve enjoyed adaptations of his work.  Coraline is one of my favorite films, and Stardust, though flawed, proved an entertaining watch.

And I like the man himself.  His imagination and skill as a writer is clear, and he seems like that kind of down-to-earth celebrity whom you can easily imagine spending an afternoon with, drinking tea and talking fiction.

Yet, I’ve only read one of his stories in its entirety, and that was the aforementioned tale of button eyes and Other Mothers.  I have attempted his Good Omens twice, and one day intend to make the journey through his Sandman series, but otherwise have been seemingly the only reader in all of existence who hasn’t devoured and loved his words to bits.

All this leading up to the actual novel subject to this review: As his latest, Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a remarkable little book that really works for a number of reasons, and proves a slice of cultural output that convinces me once and for all that I really need to seek out the author’s other works.

The reasons mentioned above are as follows:


One: Its short length and quick pace has, I think, made this story the perfect means through which to ease myself back into the habit of regular reading – something that I have been putting off for several months now.

Two: It reads precisely the way I’ve always believed that a Gaiman book would.  It’s magical and contemplative, a capturing of childhood wonder and adult sorrow, with the slightest dash of bittersweet mixed in for good measure.


The Ocean at the End of the Lane is not a particularly complex story, yet has a depth that makes it satisfying despite its length.  You’re left with the sort of closure that you might otherwise only expect from decidedly longer novels, with nothing left unsaid or rushed.  200 pages was all the space Gaiman gave himself to tell his tale, and it’s clearly all that he needed.

His prose is enchanting in the quietest of ways, languid and smooth.  His use of words is precise and poetic, imparting detail in abundance without being excessive or gaudy.  There’s something almost pastoral about Gaiman’s storytelling, bringing to mind the simple, natural magic of rich earth and firefly-filled nights and hand-carved wood.  His stories are fairy tales, regardless of setting and plot, and feel more belonging to leather-bound books of thick paper and hand-written calligraphy than mass-produced paperbacks or e-readers.

What especially draws me to Gaiman’s style is his ability to exploit the unique ability of the written word as a storytelling medium.  He fills his tales with descriptions of things that cannot be clearly seen in the mind’s eye – things that would be near impossible to put into visual images without a consequent loss of the mystery and wonder that made his words so enthralling to begin with.  It is a bit frustrating at times, being unable to completely grasp the scenes that he paints, but I can’t help but be simultaneously impressed with such a shortcoming (if it can even be called that) here in a time when we rely so steadfastly on what can be shown clearly to the physical eye.  Anyone who may claim that the book is an antiquated means of weaving a tale is wrong, and Gaiman’s imagination is excellent proof of such.

And despite its fantasies and general strangeness (Stephen King’s work comes to mind, and I certainly don’t make such a comparison derogatorily), Gaiman keeps his characters and their narratives grounded in relatable truths, giving everything the sobering aftertaste of reality.  What we have here is a story not only of other worlds and strange creatures, but a story also of the pitfalls of childhood and the uncertainties of growing up, of the uneasy balance between the two that we all must tread.  There’s something timeless and universal in these words, and it isn’t difficult to find that something amidst the dramas of immortality and altered realities.


To Conclude…

It is a sweet yet hard-edged tale, easy to pick up and easy to finish, and the lack of commitment makes The Ocean at the End of the Lane a book that every reader can pick up.  Fans of the author will undoubtedly be enthralled, and those somehow unfamiliar with the author should be no less enchanted.

So thank you, Mr Gaiman, for your artistry.  You make my shelves a better place.

Paul Beimers

Paul Beimers

Reviewer at Cuddlebuggery
A reviewer, blogger and trope enthusiast who isn't nearly as consistent with his reading as he should be.

10 Responses to “Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman”

  1. Christianna

    I loved this book to pieces!  I’m a huge fan o Gaiman’s even though I haven’t read every book that he’s written!  If you loved this one then you totally need to check out Neverwhere next!  It’s one of my top 5 of all time.  It has all the elements that made this one so great.  I love how you bring up the fact that he paints pictures of things that you can’t quite imagine, it’s one of my favorites things about his stories!  Wonderful review!

  2. Rashika

    This was actually my first book by him and it makes me want to read more of his works. His writing style is so beautiful. 
    Wonderful review! 🙂

  3. Chri

    I’ve admittedly never read any of Neil Gaiman’s works, but I’ll fix that soon! The Ocean at the End of the Lane sounds absolutely beautiful and creative. Great review, Paul!

  4. Christina (A Reader of Fictions)

    Neil Gaimain’s prose is absolutely glorious. He’s said in an interview that he works much harder on choosing each word in his juvenile fiction, and I suspect that went into this, though marketed to adults. Its brevity and the fact that all but the frame story is essentially middle grade probably made this an exception.

    Sadly, though I like his book, the artistry alone isn’t enough to make me love it. He tends to leave the characterization pretty loose for self-insertion and such, and that’s just not the kind of reader I am.
    Christina (A Reader of Fictions) recently posted…Review: Fault LineMy Profile

  5. Chicago Bankruptcy Law Office of Lorraine Greenberg

    I haven’t read a lot of Neil Gaiman, but the last one I read was The Graveyard Book. Technically it is a children’s fantasy book. Since I was a junior high English teacher I read a lot of young adult and adolescent lit, and this one was a Newberry winner. It is about a live boy who is raised in a cemetery by the dead. I LOVED The Graveyard Book, and recommend it to kids and adults alike. I know that his kids lit has had some success the last several years with some of them being made into movies like Coraline and Stardust.

  6. George Swift (Swiftbooks)

    I keep looking at this book every time I go into the shops and I still don’t know why I havn’t picked it up! I’ve read a couple of Neil Gaimen’s other works and this one seems to be perfect.
    Thanks for the review!
    George Swift (Swiftbooks) recently posted…Review PolicyMy Profile

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