It is perhaps difficult to write something about Neal Gaiman’s novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, that has not already been covered. Many have read it, many have reviewed it, and I’m sure many more will as time goes on. So I cannot say that what I took from this book is new or different from others, but, as with all readings, no matter how similar or dissimilar, each persons thoughts and feelings of a book remain solely their own. These are mine for this newest Gaiman offering.

First off, the book is not large, or long to read. A person of decent reading speed, and sufficient time could probably get through it in a couple afternoons. This lack of size though, like so many of Gaiman’s works, does not belay anything of what lays within. It has often confused me, as someone who is accustomed to reading novels, how he can pack so much into such a small space. Yet time and again he does just that and this book is no exception.

This lack of page count did particularly strike me in this book though as it came to the language of the story. His use of simplistic language baffled me continuously. In every place where I’d expect grand exposition or clever metaphors, he avoided them, writing things simply as they were in the story. And yet, for all that, no depth of story, or strength of meaning was lost. If anything this direct and simple style really struck me as more effective and truthful than a more grandiose use of words as he cut through to the core of each element, each moment within the tale.

Beyond the wording I really enjoyed the story itself. The characters felt real, the story compelling, and the darkness frightening throughout. When the protagonist was afraid, I was concerned for him and when something magical happened, I felt his wonder. I thought the novel really captured how the sort of horrible circumstances portrayed would be absorbed and observed by a young boy, and I loved how he was simply a boy here. He was not a youth ‘old for his years’ or ‘strangely mature’ as adult writers so often describe the children within their works. He is simply a boy who has to go through something strange and terrifying. So when he is faced with something scary, he wishes his mom were there, and when he sees something, he understands it only as a child. The things that scare him are things perhaps we, as adults, forgot, or should remember, once scared us. The naivete of our narrator also allows a story that covers what is truly dark material and would not be so easily digested without this sheen of innocence atop it. Many were the times I would cringe at a horror that the story teller would step past without ever realizing what terrible thing he was witnessing.

I’ve heard this novel called ‘boiler plate Gaiman,’ and I think on the surface perhaps that is true. There are certainly the Gaiman-esque tropes: a child on a journey, a world within a world, the extraordinary in the everyday. And as I read the book these familiar elements certainly did appear throughout. I thought there was more here though. The story had a sense of grounding and reality that many, but not all of his works contain. Part of this might come from me being fortunate enough to hear Gaiman speak about this book and how parts of it are based on his childhood, but I think mostly it comes from things like the simplistic wording, the real world setting, and the myriad of small, familiar, childhood elements Gaiman seeds throughout.

For me The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the bridge between American Gods and Coraline. It is a tale that has its feet planted both in the dark reality of a story about unknown powers moving within our world, and the fright and perspective of a dark fantasy told through the eyes of a child. When those things are combined I think you get an excellent summation of what Neal Gaiman writes about, and I think it only fitting a tale inspired by the real world events of Gaiman’s childhood becomes a kind of fantastical, autobiography about a child who would grow up to be an author like the one whose writings we enjoy today.