Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

5 Min Read


Tanzina Tabassum Nova


Childhood: That curious period of life, when the littlest things bring greatest joys to life. It is the time when the adults’ way of life baffles someone. Childhood has its own share of horrors and frustrations, too. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is about all these.

The unnamed narrator, a middle-aged man, returns to his childhood town to attend a funeral. He visits the place where his childhood home once was. While roaming around, he reaches the end of the lane, the Hempstock farm. He visits the farm, and remembers his friend Lettie Hempstock. He visits the duck pond, which she used to call an ‘Ocean’. This ‘Ocean’ reminds him of the terrifying incidents that took place when he was seven years old. 

This book deals with all the innocence and purity that comes with childhood. It shows the superpower children sometimes possess to ignore the world around them and be on their own. It is like the narrator says, 

“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.” 

It talks about a bookish child who is too scared to deal with other people, especially adults. He does not understand why adults act the way they act. He thinks:

“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.” 

Coraline was my introduction to Gaiman. I loved that book, but, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was the one that made me start loving Gaiman’s work. After my second reading, I have found that I still love this book the way I loved it after my first reading. 

The novel is so melancholic at times; it gives you heartache, in a good sort of way. Again, there are moments in the story that give you joy. Gaiman’s prose is rich and magical. When people say that stories can take you to other worlds, I believe they talk about this type of story or narration, the type that can make you feel what the narrator is feeling at the time. 

I like the child protagonist. He is so innocent and fragile, like only a child can be. 

And, I love the Hempstock women, all of them. I love how Lettie is always there to help and support her friend.

Then, there is Ursula Monkton, the evil incarnate. Talking much about her might spoil the story, and I will not walk that way. Let me just say that I hate the character, but love Gaiman’s depiction of her.    

The protagonist goes through some horrible experiences in his childhood, which helped him to be the man he is. This is what life is. All our experiences, good or bad, shape us to be the person we are. I suppose that is what Gaiman tried to say throughout the story.      

I love this book so much that I feel like quoting all of it. Instead, I will just conclude with quoting another favourite passage from the book:

“Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”   


Tanzina Tabassum Nova is a full-time couch-potato, and a part-time reader, writer, translator, and reciter.


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