The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman’s first novel for adults since 2005’s Anansi Boys, is a poignant story that touches on many themes familiar to fans of the author: childhood and coming of age, identity, memory, and myth. Like Gaiman’s previous works for younger audiences, The Ocean at the End of the Lane features a child protagonist whose life is touched by strangeness and magic.
At the age of 7, the unnamed boy is facing many crises, not the least of which is his parents have let out his room to lodgers in order to raise extra money. When one lodger commits suicide in the family car, the boy’s life changes in subtle and strange ways. He meets a family up the road from his home who may or may not be witches. He coughs up a coin, discovers a duck pond that may be an ocean, and encounters a giant tent-like creature that is dangerous and very ancient. Throughout the boy’s adventure, his family is completely unaware of the threats around them, forcing the boy to be resourceful and independent of adult help.
Although it is written for an adult audience, the majority of the narrative takes place through the eyes of a child as the middle-aged narrator recalls his childhood. The use of the adult voice as a framing device for the story allows Gaiman to explore the relationship between the writer, the characters, and the reader in a unique way. The narrator is conscious of the fact he is reminiscing about times long past, and so the reader is kept one step away from directly experiencing the action of the story. That lends a sort of emotional distance to the book, which produces a somewhat haunting effect. The subtle power of these narrative effects combined with Gaiman’s unique voice creates a gem of a book that can be enjoyed on many levels and by many readers.