The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’m not going to try to do any kind of in depth review of this book, which I started yesterday and finished today. I’m just going to quickly put down my impressions of it.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a book about childhood, and about childhood’s end. The unnamed narrator, in town for a funeral, visits the place he lived when he was a child, and there he remembers certain things that happened during one summer when he was seven; events he had forgotten.

Something in the book’s style brought to mind the old-fashioned children’s books I read when I was younger, things like the Famous Five and Secret Seven and all the others I’ve forgotten. There’s a kind of archetypal British childhood, mid-20th Century, out in the country with big fields and country lanes, climbing trees and exploring. Reading this book I couldn’t help feeling a little nostalgic for an image of childhood that isn’t actually anything like my own. Born in the 80s, growing up in the 90s, those old-fashioned books were old-fashioned long before I got to them.

See, what it’s really about is not childhood itself, or one particular kind of childhood. It’s about what happens when childhood comes to an end. That time when you begin to learn about death, about sex, when you begin to learn that adults do not always know best and are not all-powerful; that they will let you down. A child’s way of seeing the world, once lost, is something that you can look back on, but never regain.

The Hempstocks, three women the narrator met back in those lost memories, embody that child’s way of seeing the world. For them, a thing [i]is[/i], without requiring a reason. Why couldn’t a pond be an ocean? Why wouldn’t the moon shine full on the places it most suits it? Their world is the kind of world found in a child’s imagination. So of course an adult, having lost that way of seeing things, would forget.

As you grow up, things are lost, and you can only hope you come out alright at the end. Given that, The Ocean at the End of the Lane can’t help but have a little melancholy to it. It’s a touching book.

Read it. It won’t take long, and it’ll be worth it.

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