Book Reviews

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – Book Review

The book cover of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Warning – possible spoilers! (Tiny ones, though, and I’ll try to avoid even those; I swear I’ll give my best not to ruin it for you… :-))

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – Book Details

TITLE – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

AUTHOR – Neil Gaiman

GENREfantasy, paranormal, urban fantasy, horror



MY RATING – 5 of 5


What It Is About

If you’d asked me an hour before, I would have said no, I did not remember the way. I do not even think I would have remembered Lettie Hempstock’s name. But standing in that hallway, it was all coming back to me. Had you told me that I was seven again, I might have half believed you, for a moment.

Here’s a difficult story to try and describe in a couple of paragraphs and without giving too much away.

A middle-aged man goes back to his childhood home and is immediately drawn to the farm at the end of the lane. Suddenly, he starts to remember the time when he was seven, when he met the girl who lived at that farm, Lettie Hempstock, who claimed her pond was an ocean.

It is hard to believe he forgot the events of that time, as what happened was strange, terrifying, unexplainable and absolutely remarkable. But he starts to remember now – close to the farm, a man had committed suicide, and his death unleashed darkness dangerous beyond anything anyone could imagine.

But Lettie seemed to understand what was going on, and she promised she will protect the boy and make everything right again…

Themes & vibes:

    • dark modern fairytale
    • a category for itself
    • dream-like (or rather – nightmarish) narration
    • whimsical, nonsensical, otherworldly vibes
    • take from it what you will
    • can I please have that cat!!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – My Review

I stared at the house, remembering less than I had expected about my teenage years: no good times, no bad times. I’d lived in that place, for a while, as a teenager. It didn’t seem to be any part of who I was now.

Here’s a book that made me sob, and don’t bother asking me why because I have no idea.

It wasn’t sad. In fact, it had some very hopeful and uplifting messages. But it touched me in the most unexpected ways, and I love it for it.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is a beautiful, magical story. It was fascinating, and dark, and immersive, and weird, and monstrous, and moving, and I need a reread.

It took me a while to get used to it, though. For the longest time I had no idea what was going on or what to expect. The tags said horror, and there were some elements. But everything was also just so weird and for the most part it could have been just a mildly spooky middle grade. (It was not, it was very much adult).

Her face was wrong, somehow: an accidental assemblage of features that simply put me in mind of a human face, like […] the patterns in the headboard of the bed at my grandmother’s house, which, if I looked at them wrongly in the moonlight, showed me an old man with his mouth open wide, as if he were screaming.

This story is about so many things, but amongst others, it is about trying to remember who you once were. What you were like, what was important to you back then and how things you can’t even remember affect who you are now.

It is about the pull to revisit things that affected you more than anything else in your life. Even if at times they seem too fantastical to be true.

The story follows an unnamed forty-something-year-old man, which I’d say is just about the age when death starts to feel closer than before and you start to reflect on your life. The man was just at a funeral, which is another thing that can quickly remind us we are mortal.

So, naturally, this man almost unconsciously goes back to the place where he spent his childhood. And long forgotten truths start to rise to the surface.

That beginning to me was very strong and it pulled me right in. But there was this big chunk in the middle where everything felt too nonsensical.

I saw the world from above and below. I saw that there were patterns and gates and paths beyond the real. I saw all these things and understood them and they filled me, just as the waters of the ocean filled me.

Most of the book felt like a dream, mostly because the boy just went with whatever was going on, hardly ever questioning it, no matter how weird it got. And it was hard to relate and imagine yourself going through something like that when everything felt so detached from reality and no one was bothering to tell you what’s going on.

I couldn’t grasp anything. I was thinking – does any of this actually have a point? Or was the author just messing with us? Maybe it was a weird you-get-what-you-see story, and that was it.

Well, if that didn’t come swinging right back at me or what.

Because you guys – everything came together so beautifully in the end! Suddenly everything made perfect sense.

As soon as things finally started to get clearer, I was just blown away. And this weird little book I thought was getting too much hype turned out to be one of my favorite stories I’ve ever read.

A story only matters, I suspect, to the extent that the people in the story change.

And yet, I feel like this is one of those books from which everyone gets to take something different. So much was left to the imagination and to making your own conclusions, it’s impossible to tell how other people perceived it.

My favorite parts, for example. I know what they meant to me, but I’ve read a lot of reviews where people got a completely different message. In fact, I’ve never heard anyone talk about what I thought was the main aspect of the story (it’s a bit spoilerish), and I wonder if it was just me.

In any case, Gaiman really used this book to fully showcase many wonderful aspects of his creativity. Everything was so vivid, so well thought off. The small things, the hidden messages, the surprises you don’t even see coming even though you were clearly told so…

I just have no words to describe how well written this story was.

The sheer amount of layers and allusions in this story was mind-blowing. I loved Neil Gaiman’s writing in everything I’ve read before (which, granted, was not a lot), but here he really showed what a master word craftsman he is.

Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren’t.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane was full of dark, luring, menacing things, but the worst, the scariest things that happened had nothing (or barely anything) to do with magic. There were two scenes I could live without, but they weirdly fit so well into the story.

Mixed with that, there were these little pockets of utter coziness spread throughout the book. They gave a lot of warmth to the story that otherwise might have been too dark and gruesome.

Both the horror and the wonder parts were described in a way a child would perceive them. Which gave a helpless, innocent dimension to the whole thing.

I knew enough about adults to know that if I did tell them what had happened, I would not be believed. Adults rarely seemed to believe me when I told the truth anyway. Why would they believe me about something so unlikely?

Before I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the way people were describing it to me, I thought it might completely freak me out. But honestly, I didn’t think it was all that creepy. I mean, sure, things happen. But it didn’t make me even a little bit uncomfortable.

Then again, I felt similarly about Coraline, and many people claim it gave them nightmares. So there’s that.

Anyways. No wonder my favorite reviewers decided not to talk too much about the plot in their reviews. It’s the journey that matters and knowing too much before you even started the book would only spoil it for you.

So I’ll stop talking now as well. But in case you’ve been wondering if you should pick up this book, if it is worth giving a shot, my answer is a hundred thousand times yes.

This is definitely a book I’ll need to reread to get the full picture. I feel like I’ve missed so much on the first read, so many ifs and whys and maybes that I completely failed to grasp.

Or maybe I’m just trying to justify my need to grab it right now, even though I’ve just finished it. Even though my TBR angrily protests in the background. And go back to the pond that is actually an ocean. And to people who hide a lot under the humble surface.

My Signature

(2) Comments

  1. Karl lauritzen says:

    One of his best books.. this is a great story to be read many times…

    1. It was the best book I’ve read in 2022 and it became one of my all time favorites. I sure plan to reread it often 🙂

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