My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s hard to describe The Ocean at the End of the Lane without revealing spoilers. Let’s start with this: This book is unlike any other I’ve ever read. It feels somewhat like a Grimm fairy tale, and any moral is similarly absent, or at least unobtrusive. Others have described it as having a 7-year-old narrator, but that’s only partially true. It’s a challenging, contemplative, but relatively quick read.
While at his book reading/signing, Gaiman noted with approval that one reviewer had called this a “book for readers,” meaning there is no real age distinction. I’m going to have to forcefully disagree. While most of this book is fairly all-ages, the horror-tinged parts are deeply scary. I wouldn’t give it to any child under 13, and then only if they were okay with being frightened. Unlike other horrors based in fantasy that can maybe be shrugged off, this one challenges the very core of a child’s (or adult’s!) feelings of safety and security. Proceed with caution.
A summary, trying to avoid any important spoilery bits: A man goes back to his childhood home, finding it much different. But the house down the lane looks shockingly similar to his memory of it. He feels compelled to go there, and sits and stares into the pond. From this vantage point, he remembers. He remembers the frights and thrills of his seventh year of life, and the monster he accidentally awoke, and the trials he and the girl from down the lane went through to try to overcome it.
I don’t think this book is for everyone. I really deeply enjoy Gaiman, and I still didn’t always enjoy this one in bits (I should have been prepared for the level of horror, perhaps, because of Sandman, but it took me by surprised anyway). It’s obviously deeply personal, drawing from elements of Gaiman’s real childhood and real life in ways his prior books. It feels as if we’ve unlocked some secret door in Gaiman’s mind, a parallel universe door in which this story is actually truth. The descriptions are vibrant and rich, and I very much wish I could go enjoy a meal with the Hempstock matriarchs.
Though this book debuted this summer, this feels more like a book for a dark and moody winter, when you’ve long forgotten the warmth of the sun.