It is no secret that I’m a fan of and his writing. I’ve had a hardback copy of his newest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, on order from Porter Square Books since Gaiman endorsed the indie bookstore with signed copies. You can take into consideration that it will join other signed copies of his books on my bookshelf. But do not let my fondness unfairly shade this review as Gaiman’s newest book is worth opening its pages and falling into them head first.
Touted as a fairy tale for adults, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a masterful frame story that challenges what memory is and how it plays in our lives. Framed with the return of a memory as an adult, the story becomes a remembrance that flirts at the edge of reality and imagination all the way through.
Because the narrator of the memory is a boy, some critics say that this book could be categorized for young adults. While it would be entertaining and still touch the fantastic that Gaiman always sprinkles his stories with for young readers, it may be more meaningful for adults who can apply the same type of “remembering” to long forgotten childhood events to question their realness and existence.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a fairy tale, yet it also reflects on the author, on his own writing, and the importance of books. Throughout, the narrator comments on his love for books and how they entertain and save him. When he tells of a birthday cake with a book on it, Gaiman writes, “I was their first book.” In some ways, it feels as if this fairy tale that touches on and steals from his own life is almost a deconstruction to how much a story becomes his own life. While it may be a fairy tale, telling stories gives Gaiman life. Perhaps he put a little of that life back in this particular story.
At the same time, the book still offers the familiar wild, weird, and wonderful that readers find and expect in Gaiman’s books. Mixed in with a sense of reality is magic. Perhaps because it reads like a memory, the magic feels even more tangible. Like many of his books, the dark and the light play against each other making it more of a book for adults than children. While some critics are calling this work short or incomplete, that fits exactly what the book challenges – what is a memory, and what does remembering do for us?
Out of all of his books, this one feels the most personal. It becomes a pleasure to get lost in Gaiman’s world that he offers in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Having listened to Gaiman read some of the passages from the book in preparation for the book’s release, I would also recommend getting the audiobook as well in order to hear Gaiman add his inflections to his own words to add to the richness and personal journey.
Update: Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman’s wife and awesome artist & musician, posted her review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane on her blog. Check it out!
Other Reviews (Warning: Spoilers)