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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman



Highlights: The man-narrator second guessing details, describing pulling a worm from his foot as a matter-of-fact incident and then doubting the memory where he and his sister had a gas fireplace in their bedroom. The farm-fresh food described in the book is tantalizing and delightful to read, including fresh cow's milk with honeycomb and jam.
Synopsis: While Neil Gaiman writes many things that feel like fables or myths and many things that feel like magical realism, this was different while still having elements of both. The prose is gorgeous, simply put and electric with phrases that wriggle under your skin like something you've dreamt about before but can't quite recollect.
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Reading Recommendation

Total Score
13/ 14

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The ugliness of boyhood, full of mud, wet pajamas, and the prickle of kitten claws. Magic's straightforward influence on the plot and how undeniable the character finds it to be. Neil Gaiman's gorgeous prose, using the exact word that elicits the reader's own childhood memories.


The book takes itself very seriously and can't be considered a "fun" read.

Bottom Line

Gorgeous prose from an award-winning author who has reached new heights, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is elegant, magical, while bleeding and writhing before our eyes. Don’t miss this short yet beautiful tale of a man reliving the memories of his youth that were too strange to be remembered. A Magical Plot Told as [...]

Posted July 29, 2013 by

Full Article

Gorgeous prose from an award-winning author who has reached new heights, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is elegant, magical, while bleeding and writhing before our eyes. Don’t miss this short yet beautiful tale of a man reliving the memories of his youth that were too strange to be remembered.


A Magical Plot

Told as if grasping for a memory that has been forgotten and then remembered again, the plot of The Ocean at the End of the Lane is given from an adult man’s perspective. Having returned to his hometown in Sussex, England, the man is drawn to a farmhouse where he used to know the inhabitants that had a large pond behind it. He remembers a young girl named Lettie who insisted that the pond behind her house was an ocean and that was only the beginning of Lettie’s absurd imaginings. The more the man remembers, the more these recovered memory lapses start to feel like the real thing instead of childhood dreams. It all starts with a man who committed suicide, laying in the back seat of the boy’s family’s car on top of a favorite comic book that the boy is disappointed to be without.

Concise and Beautiful Writing

Neil Gaiman manages to transport the reader back to their own childhood with simple phrases or descriptions that feel so real. When the character feels the prickle of a kitten’s claw or the taste of fresh cream, straight from the cow, in his mouth, filling it with dense warmth, it is as though the author is plucking memories straight from a child’s head, with all the newness and wonder of a first experience. The uncanny realness of the writing makes the magical elements feel intense, even scary at times, when combined with relatable childhood moments. The reader will find themselves questioning the storyline and then questioning reality instead because the writing is so palpable and present.


Archetypal Characters and Then the Real People

A young girl known to the main character as Lettie comes across matter-of-fact and earthy the way she is overly sure of herself, the way little girls can be. However, something about Lettie is revealed when the main character discovers a coin lodged in his throat one night, a gift from another world gone awry. Lettie’s mother, Ginnie, and grandmother, “Old Mrs. Hempstock” are involved in the matter only to put the small girl in charge of getting rid of the imbalance. Though it’s never written explicitly, the three characters are often included as a whole, Ginnie being commonly mistook for Old Mrs. Hempstock along with other correlations to imply that the three women are intended perhaps as archetypal figures for the three phases of womanhood or the maiden, mother, and crone.

The main character has a irritating little sister, looked up with the authentic disdain only an older brother can harbor, along with realistic parent characters, flaws and all.

A few of the important characters are cats and have quite a bit to do with the plot despite the fact that they have no dialogue.

Fun Factor

A few moments where the magic envelops the plot can be considered fun, but the book takes a rather serious tone throughout as fits with the attitude of serious, book-loving, little boys.

Reading Recommendation

As a short read, this book would be a great option for those looking for a quick and easy taste of Neil Gaiman’s writing. Those who love American Gods or The Graveyard Book by the same author will find this book to have a similar realistic fantasy world that engages the reader with dialogue and concise prose.

While there is a brief mention of sexuality, this title would be appropriate to recommend to a mature ninth grader who is looking for a short read with some realism and fantasy.



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Lauren Bryant

Having studied library and information sciences in a graduate program at San Jose State University, Lauren is a professional librarian who has worked in middle school, high school, and public libraries with teen patron groups. Favorite genres include fantasy, historical fiction, cyberpunk, and stories with strong female characters. Check out Lauren's website, LaurentheLibrarian.com for book reviews, giveaways, and library stuff.


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