Memories Fade: A Review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I finished Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane awhile ago. I’ve even finished and started some other novels and short story collections since then. I’ve just been really bad about actually getting around to writing reviews for any of them. The nice thing about books is that they don’t have the same sort of time constraints that other mediums do (usually), so

The last adult novel Neil Gaiman wrote was Anansi Boys, the pseudo-sequel to American Gods, that came out in 2005. With his latest release, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Gaiman delves into a tale that is a major departure from his other adult works. While it bears some similarities in its fantastical and otherworldly nature, the story features a very young protagonist who is going through a traumatic experience in his life. Gaiman’s other adult novels are usually more coming of age stories about young men who are trying to find their way in the world and do so through the discovery of their importance in another realm. This story is more about the nature of memory in relation to traumatic events.

The story opens with the protagonist going to visit his old childhood home following a funeral that he has attended. He then goes to visit his former neighbors, the Hempstocks. As he is in the house, he begins to remember events from his childhood that took place there. The events he remembers are rather traumatic and include things like a boarder who commits suicide in his family’s car and a live-in nanny who is actually a supernatural monster who torments him and threatens to tear his family apart. The story takes place over only a few days one summer, and it does capture the kind of singular bad set of experiences that we sometimes forget over time or try to block out.

Aside from being different in its content, this is also the first adult novel Gaiman has written in the first person. The perspective allows the reader to follow the narrator’s memory more closely and feel more connected to him as he remembers all of the different events from his childhood. It also makes the story feel very personal and intimate, which I think is very appropriate for the tale being told.

I greatly enjoyed this The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and it was really nice to read something from Gaiman that was a little different from the things he’s written in the past. Those of you who haven’t read it yet but have followed Neil Gaiman, be ready for a story that is different from his previous works. It is well worth the read though (and it isn’t very long, so it’s not a huge time commitment), and I definitely recommend it.

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