I remain deeply confused by The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. For one thing, I’m not even sure what it is: it’s a story set mainly during childhood, but is surely too weird to be a children’s book or even YA. But the fact that it focuses so firmly on childhood whimsy means it doesn’t quite seem like an adult novel either. As a reader who likes to alternate between adult and YA literature, this problem of definition caused me an unnecessary amount of consternation.
If you’re waiting for me to explain what this book is about, then I’m afraid I may have to disappoint you. It’s about a slightly weird and isolated boy who finds a worm in his foot, accidentally summons some kind of demon and makes friends with a mysterious family of ageless women. Who have a really big puddle at the end of the lane.
It really is as weird as I’m making it sound.
This was my first full experience of a Gaiman novel; I started The Graveyard Book a while ago but didn’t finish it, and I haven’t picked up one of his books since. I enjoyed the style of The Ocean at the End of the Lane enough that I’d read more of his work. but I was somehow unprepared for just how weird this was going to be. I know enough about Neil Gaiman to know I shouldn’t have been caught off guard by a seemingly normal, if slightly tragic story of a small, bookish boy who suffered the ignominy of hosting a birthday party that nobody turned up to, which is exactly the kind of thing that makes my eyes all watery. But then he pulled a massive worm out of his foot and the freaky nanny turned up and this all threw me quite a lot. I really can’t overstate how much the worm thing distressed me.
Something I found a little troublesome when reading was the childish nature of the narrative, contrasting with the complex magical realism-type content; I feel like this was something of a red herring, distracting my attention from the supernatural events by foregrounding the naive narrator.
So what am I actually saying about The Ocean at the End of the Lane? I feel like I’ve really just criticised it when I sort of enjoyed it. It was definitely an interesting read, and I want to read some more of Gaiman’s work, but I’m not sure this one was really for me.