52 in 52: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman


[This review is based on the paperback edition published by William Morrow and Company in 2013.]

The single-sentence synopsis:
A man leaves a funeral and drives to his childhood home, where he revisits his alternately sweet and creepy encounters with some otherworldly beings posing as neighbors.

Judging the cover:
The cover judge in me is what led me to read the book — it’s darkly beautiful and interesting. I hoped the book would be the same way.

First thought I had after I finished reading:
Wow, that was dark…sadly, too dark for me.

And here’s why:
The Ocean at the End of the Lane had been popping up everywhere, recommended left and right, being touted as a must-read fairy tale. I hadn’t read any blurbs about it beforehand, as I tend not to if a cover stands out strongly enough to me, and now I wish I had. I came into this having never read a Neil Gaiman novel, and so I had no idea that he’s been billed as “the modern master of wonder and terror.” Horror is not my thing — I consciously steer clear of horror movies and haunted houses and the like — so I realized very quickly that I may have made a misstep when I chose this book. Lesson learned for next time, I guess: Always at least vet the author before picking up the book.

As for the story itself, I’ll give Mr. Gaiman one thing: This is a hell of an imaginative story. The moral, without question, is that not everything is as it seems. The Hempstock ladies are not the simple farm girls that they appear to be, nor is Ursula Monkton, the protagonist’s family’s new nanny. The titular ocean at the end of the lane doesn’t look like an ocean at all to the boy, at least not initially. The scariest thing though, in my opinion, is how easily things can be erased in the story. It’s disturbing how quickly memories can be changed, and even more disturbing how simple it is to tear an object, an animal, or a person from the fabric of life. It must be read to be believed.

I can’t speak much about the Hempstocks without giving things away, but I really liked them. They were wonderful protectors for the nameless protagonist; I only wish Ursula had been as well. She is completely different and wholly creepy in every sense of the word. For lack of another word, she ingratiates herself into the protagonist’s family, and everyone loves her except for the boy himself. Her interactions with his father, and the way he changes around her, is simply horrifying; let’s just say that, in the real world, he would be worthy of a call to Child Protective Services. I was left wishing that his mother would just come home from work!

Is The Ocean at the End of the Lane interesting? Certainly. Is it thought-provoking? Absolutely. Is it dark? Ohhh, yeah. If you’re a fan of horror novels or fairy tales (The Brothers Grimm in particular come to mind), this is definitely a great read for you!

On a scale of 1-5, I would give it a…
4.

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