Fiction Analysis: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

As is typical for most writers, I’ve heard of Neil Gaiman. I marveled at his lecture on writing and much of what he has to say about creativity. Oddly, I hadn’t gotten around to reading his work until this week. His book “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” invaded my normal reading schedule by chance. I’ve a colleague at my day job who I chat with about literature every now and again. Just so happened that this colleague had just finished this book and was ready to part with it (he doesn’t keep hard copy books). He handed the book to me on Monday, I started it Tuesday, work kept me busy on Wednesday but I finished it yesterday.

I don’t want to completely tear the book asunder. It doesn’t deserve that. It was a wonderful story, a fantastic fairy tale-esqe story I ultimately enjoyed. There were things about out I couldn’t stand and made it very hard to continue reading, though. Gaiman’s language usage is far from extraordinary, though I get that may be the point. He uses every day language in a repetitive sort of way, and his figures were mostly generic. The story is told from the perspective of a child though, so perhaps that’s the point. I personally found the language boring though.

That aside, the story was exquisite. These fairy tale stories always seem to capture my attention and imagination. It fantastic (literally), it also gets dark. It would be a kind of fairy tale I can see becoming a new English tradition. It kept me in suspense, and the pay off was more-or-less satisfying.

There was one quote in particular that adhered itself in my mind after I read it. It’s been said other ways of course, but Gaiman worded it in just a way to make me stop in my tracks and think about what he’d said.

“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath the rhododendrons, to find the space between the fences.”

There isn’t any spectacular imagery here. In fact I find his usage of commas to be excessive and irritating. Despite that, the quote grabbed me. I can picture children playing, content to go as they please. While an adult follows routine incessantly. I get it. I’ve been a child before and I’m an adult now. I’ve lost a bit of my desire to explore which Gaiman is rightfully seeing as a fault in adults. To describe new adventures as space between the fences is a very interesting choice as it evokes childhood again. A child can only explore when they can squeeze out of the fence that keeps them in the comfortable yard. I think this is a wonderful quote by Gaiman and for sure the best in the book.

Here’s another quote that I like because it felt like it was addressing me directly:

Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet but they are never lost for good.”

Things evoke memories. Until then the memories are vague suggestions of things that might’ve happened. Like reading a journal entry from years ago and magically being able to recall the exact sensory experience of that day.

This work by Gaiman was pretty hot and cold. I understand that it was geared toward a younger crowd and I do give it credit that it was spectacular for what it set out to accomplish. I also feel I’ve been harsh on this novel throughout. I read with a critical eye long before I let the story envelope me. I would recommend the book, though. I actually, handed the book to someone else who seemed interested to read it. In that sort of way the book will continue being passed on for a while.

If there’s a book you want me to read next, or disagree with what I’ve to say about The Ocean at the End of the Lane, let me know in the comments. Thank you as always for reading.

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24 thoughts on “Fiction Analysis: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

  1. Great review! I don’t always love Gaiman’s work, but when he gets it right he really gets it right. Everyone loves American Gods, but I personally found it a bit dry and, to be honest, pretty dull. My personal favorite of Gaiman’s is Anansi Boys. Now that book is fantastic. The characters seem to pop out more in that novel as well.

    Liked by 1 person

      • One positive aspect of Gaiman is how stylized his work is. The second you read the first line you know it’s written by him. One complaint I have with him is that his characters can be pretty cookie-cutter at times. His concepts on the other hand tend to be far more interesting. He can be very poignant at times. The main problem I had with American Gods is it seems to meander quite a bit. Anansi Boys is more tightly plotted (at least in my memory) and the characters stand out more. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this book! I guess the language can be a little simplistic but as you said it is written for a younger audience. It’s never bothered me though. I hated American Gods but loved Neverwhere, you should try reading that too πŸ™‚

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  3. I have only read one Neil Gaiman book, the Graveyard book, a children’s book I found fascinating. Literary book it’s not but as you said tremendous story I found fascinating about an orphaned boy taken in and raised by the haunted son a cemetery five stars. Although it’s a children’s book I enjoyed. So too the Chronicles of Narnia written by a recognized literary genius

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  4. As a professional songwriter for a number of years, I fell into that pattern of analyzing what I heard well before I could enjoy the emotion of it. It took stepping away from my own pursuits for a time to learn to connect with music as a listener without agenda again. It was a nice thing to come back to and I hope I don’t lose it with writing stories.

    P.s. – Neverwhere is my favorite Gaiman story hands down. It is dark, fantastical and written for adults.

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  5. I am a huge Gaimen Fan and The Ocean at the end of the Lane really left me wanting and disappointed. I read it when it came out put it down never picked it back up. I haven’t yet taken an opportunity to give it a second chance but with all of Gaimen’s work I’m sure I will.

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  6. Gaiman is a better short-story writer than he is a novelist, and he’s a better comic-book writer than he is a short-story writer. His masterpiece remains The Sandman.

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  7. Great review! I noticed a couple people mentioned trying “American Gods” next, but to be honest Mr. Gaiman and you might not work with that book either. The problem you had with this novel is nearly the same one I had with “American Gods.” He comes up with some brilliant ideas but his writing style just sucks the life out of each sentence. I put AG down after 50 or so pages. I will try “Coraline” one day since that is his alleged legend, but I am concerned about his soon coming Norse Gods short stories. Takes a lot of not trying to mess up those characters and worlds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The big issue with American Gods is that it is about twice as long as it needs to be for the point it is trying to make. The other big issue is that the point in question has already been made (and done better) in Gaiman’s Sandman comics.

      I think Coraline is his best novel.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I saw your comment before I posted mine and I thought about how it was possible that he could write such great plot and dialogue for comics yet not work it out for a novel? Two different mediums of writing, I know, but both do start with a balanced plot and strong characters. Unless he has not found his genuine novel-writing voice, I don’t see how it’s possible that he can’t write an okay novel because he most certainly has the talent. (His Doctor Who episode is my true favorite of the whole show.)

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