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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)

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Rating: 4 Pfoten

Book 26 of My Book List 2022

”I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even 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 found joy in the things that made me happy.”

You know, the more I think about this book, the harder it is to review it properly. “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is definitely one of those books that – for lack of a better word – smoulders after you finished the last page. It’s one of those stories that needs to sink in and slowly but steadily digs its claws into your mind. It’s kind of funny how you don’t even notice the effect while you read the book but experience it afterwards once you have time to actually think about it. The book is a pretty fast read and it didn’t take me long to page through it, the “aftereffects” are an entirely different matter though.

”Nobody actually looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everything.”

It are wisdoms like that, which cause you to think and to reflect on the story. I’m sure a lot of people already wrote about a million of words about this book but I guess I’ll just throw in a couple of thoughts I had after finishing “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”. The first thing I noticed is that the story has a lot of fairy tale like elements. We have a boy that sees the world with different eyes than the adults around him and because of that the grown-ups don’t believe him. The narrator of the book might only be seven years old, but in a lot of ways he’s more open-minded and perceptive than all the adults around him.     

”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.”

For me the fight against the antagonist of the story was so frustrating because basically no one of the adults believes the boy when he says that the person is bad. And I guess it’s something a lot of adults do. They don’t understand the thoughts of their children and most of them don’t even bother to try to understand their perspective. Quite honestly, if my kid would tell me that there’s a horrible person that is evil I’d ask why? And yes, I’d try to see it through my child’s eyes. I haven’t lost that inner child of me yet and I hope I never will. I still make up stories and live in a fantasy world with my kid and I think it’s very important to give them this precious room to grow into themselves. They learn things playfully and it’s crucial to take them seriously when they are so insistent on something. As a parent you should protect your child and the things that happened to the poor boy in this story. Well, for me some of the scenes were extremely shocking.

”She was power incarnate, standing in the crackling air. She was the storm, she was the lightning, she was the adult world with all its power and all its secrets and all its foolish casual cruelty.”

This quote! It sums up everything I just said. Children might live in their own world but to them our adult world is at least as mysterious and incomprehensible as their world is to us. I hated Ursula Monkton with a passion, because she was the embodiment of the cruel adult world. She represented everything that made life complicated and miserable. It’s very interesting that Ursula wasn’t actually a bad person/being, she wanted to make people happy but she was ignorant to the fact that happiness always comes with a price. You can’t make everyone happy because one person’s happiness will probably turn out to be the cause of another person’s misfortune. There’s a balance in life and if you disrupt it things will get out of hand. 

”Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.”

And before that could actually happen, Lettie Hempstock and her mother and grandmother stepped in. Those three women were so interesting and I love what Neil Gaiman did with them. I mean it’s kinda obvious they stand for the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. All three of them have been around as long as the universe itself and time has absolutely no meaning for them. Their existence in the book was very particular because they neither lived in the narrator’s world nor in the adult one. They lived somewhere in between and no matter how hard the boy tried to understand what they were talking about he couldn’t really grasp their world. Which was such a nice and subtle way to describe the discrepancy between childhood and adulthood. At least for me it did. I’m pretty sure a lot of people might have a different opinion about this aspect of the book and I’m also convinced that every take on this is valid. How you interpret and rate books is completely subjective so the same book will mean different things for everyone who reads it. 😉

”You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.”

As for the ending? Well, it made me sad. It’s obvious the things that happened changed the course of the narrator’s life and it’s not entirely clear if it was for the better or for worse. And I’m sure this is exactly what Neil Gaiman wanted us to wonder about. Some experiences are good and some are bad, but you always grow through them and they change and shape you into the person you are now. Some things you can influence and others are beyond your influence and just happen to you. It’s always up to you how you deal with it though.

”I make art, sometimes I make true art, and sometimes it fills the empty places in my life. Some of them. Not all.”

4

All told, I really enjoyed this book and to say it was thought-provoking would be an understatement. I guess you can already tell by my review that “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” will stay with me for a long time and that I’ll continue to think about it for quite some time. It was a very strange book, but also a good one. I definitely didn’t expect it to be so creepy but I suppose adult life can be pretty grim and creepy as well so it kind of fit the mood of the story. If you like books like that I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one too. =)

 

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