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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

Illustration for article titled Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

My first Neil Gaiman book was also my first Terry Pratchett book: Good Omens. I didn't like it. And so you see that sometimes my taste is questionable at best. Since then, I have marveled at the minds of both men, particular Gaiman.


There is a moment in Jane Eyre which I'll paraphrase. Jane asked Mr. Rochester if he would treat her as reprehensibly as he does his wife if she too was to go mad. He replies that her mind delights him, is his toy, and that if it were broken, it would delight him still.

I do believe Neil Gaiman's mind is my toy.


I love the way his brain words, his ideas, and find myself liking concepts in his books that I never have previously.

He does childhood exceptionally well. What it's like to have an active mind, and outsized fears, and for adults not to always see you.


"Ocean" is told from the point of view of an (unnamed) adult man who recalls a time when he was but seven. An Amazon reviewer said this made it a children's book. I wonder when she lost her imagination, or has she, like the protagonist, forgotten what it was like? It would be nice if children only dealt with child-sized fears, wouldn't it?

Gaiman would not be the first author to use the supernatural to suggest that most of us have some amnesia when it comes to childhood, and that this might be self-preservation. We remember when we least expect it.

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.


I didn't have the childhood of our unnamed protagonist, but remembering my own youth, I felt a kinship. My upbringing was urban, and decidedly American, and yet my seven-year-old self would have understood quite well this little British boy with lots of room to roam. The secret lives kids lead right under the noses of their parents, the language of childhood, the knowledge that there are simply things you're better off not telling grownups. The nightmares, literal and figurative, you shoulder alone so you don't hear the condescension of the amnesiacs charged with your care.

Stephen King as either written or inferred, more than once, that the friends we have in childhood are the best friends we'll ever have, and I must wonder if it's because we're veterans of the same battles. I believe that Ocean's protagonist would understand that, at least while the fog of forgetfulness is lifted.


Do I need to say that I most enthusiastically recommend this book?

Comments are welcome! Anecdotes on the battles of childhood. Mentions of other books, and media, about the topic. (How many stories can you recall that make you remember fears of shadows on the wall and monsters under the bed?)


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