Every once in a while a book comes along and lets its readers reflect on their lives from the point of view they’ve long since abandoned: their inner child. Neil Gaiman has a special gift in being such a writer.
I was first introduced to Gaiman through Good Omens, a collaboration with Terry Pratchett (a long time favorite author of mine) which has recently been adapted for film with David Tennant. From there I have snaked my way through his genius at narrative until I came across this cute little novel on Audible. Now my Audible relationship is usually a month long journey through a 25 plus hour book, but last month I had a bit of extra cash and decided to splurge.
While Neil Gaiman’s soothing voice brings a comforting fatherly chill to the life of a young boy, he sells you with the story. The Ocean at the end of the lane is a story of magic and self discovery. It is about a world almost too real to be fantasy, and I believe the self to be discovered is you: the reader.
“Grown- ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and always know what they’re doing. Inside they look just like they always have… The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups.”Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
The idea that adults are children trapped inside aging bodies is not a new one. Freud is one source- believing that a child is born immoral and gradually roots that “Id” deeper and deeper into the unconscious aspects of their personality. Yet Gaiman is one of those writers who can take an old concept and make it new again- the skill some would say is necessary to create successful stories.
I believe that the magic of the world- the knowable, the fun- is something that is in conflict in this book. We each of us find joy in discovery, we are a sort of cosmic children wading the sea of eternity for a reason to continue to live and a purpose to our existence. Gaiman’s characters discover the true nature of being and find it to be boring, that knowing all is not as fun as discovering more. Human progress is grounded in the hope that we will always have questions left to answer, that the bigger issues will breed more mysteries and give us a deeper insight into what is behind it all.
This is magic, but I hesitate to call this novel one of fantasy. While the elements do seem fantastical, the world is that of cosmic horror- a notoriously difficult genre to write about. Gaiman’s choice in describing such an adult- oriented horror genre through the eyes of a 7 year old is what I think helped this story define itself. It stands alone out there in its beauty, its comments about life and how we explore it.
As you may be able to tell, I am far more interested in talking about how beautiful the world is than in giving the plot to the story to you. I would love to discuss this book with anyone, and I recommend you read everything Gaiman has written. I read this through an audiobook as narrated by the author- which gives each line the charm it deserves, but you can find it- I’m sure- in any Gaiman section of a bookstore or in the link below.
Have you read this book? Great! tell me how it made you feel in the comments below!
Keep reading, my friends.