Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is terrifying and comforting, grounded and fanciful, delicate and powerful. But most of all, it is a true representation of childhood—or rather, of revisiting childhood as an adult. It is, in other words, a Gaiman sort of book, and if that’s enough for you to decide to pick it up, I recommend that you stop reading this and start reading that.
Still here, eh? All right, then; I’ll go on, but not for long. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is, despite the title, short and (sometimes) sweet, and it would not be well served by a lot of wordy words.
I think most of us, when we look back on our childhoods, do so with a sort of soft-focus lens, skipping over the ugliest bits. We may not forget what happened, exactly, but we do forget how it felt to live through it. In general, that’s probably for the best. A survival mechanism. But sometimes—say, if we are trying to comfort a child, trying to comfort ourselves, or trying to write about it—it’s a good idea to make the effort to really, really remember.
It’s hard, though. Try this exercise: think back to a time when you were afraid of the Thing Under the Bed, the Nameless Other in the Closet, the shadows running your bedroom walls at night. Got it? Okay. Now. Feel that fear. That fear that made you afraid to get out of bed and turn on the light, even though you knew that if you made it to the switch, you’d be safe. That fear that made you pull all your limbs under the covers. Can you? Well, then, I suggest buying the book in whichever form you find most convenient, finding a nice hidey-hole somewhere, and reading it without delay.
Thank you, Neil Gaiman. You’ve once again given us a lovely, delicious book.