‘Adults follow paths. Children explore’
I listened to The Ocean at the End of the Lane on Audible, narrated by Neil Gaiman himself. A story about childhood struggles, growing up, coming to terms with the world, and of course, magic. It was beautiful and sometimes brutal. It is Neil Gaiman's melancholic tone that emanated from his every word wonderfully brought the pages to life in what a found to be a great read.
This is a short novel, which revolves around a nameless central narrator, who returns to the house they grew up in as an adult. On walking along long forgotten paths, memories start to flood back, and he reminisces and contemplates times he thought long forgotten. This is a retrospective tale that sensitively shows memories that are vague, but realistically highlights traumatic moments in visceral detail in a way that really ties you to the story and central character.
“Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”
As always, Neil Gaiman’s prose can only be praised. He has somehow unlocked a mythic quality to his writing that just exudes the very tone and sense he seems to be striving for. That mix of childhood naivety with the regrets of adulthood are conveyed perfectly, and this was made even better somehow through his own narration. As I have already said, Neil Gaiman narrated The Ocean at the End of the Lane as if the world really did weigh on his shoulders, as it seems to do so with the narrator. Having listened to him reading other books, I know that he adapted his tone for this purpose, and that makes it even more impressive.
It is set in Sussex, with a young boy who tackles struggling relationships with parents, and is suddenly faced by the realisation that they are not the flawless idols he previously believed. This throws his entire life out of balance, and is where much of the fantastical element of the story comes in. What is brilliant is that this could easily be argued to be Neil Gaiman presenting the defence mechanism of a child to cope with shocking events, or maybe there are monsters and magical creatures who step in to help and withdraw then they are no longer needed.
“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”
What prevents this being proclaimed as a 5-star read is perhaps that I would have liked to have a closer relationship with our central characters, as well perhaps know more about what the narrator did with much of his life when this story of his childhood concluded. Whilst this was not have changed the story, I think they would have just added that bit more depth that would gave moved this story into one of my favourites.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an easy, beautifully written story that beautifully tells the story of the loss of childhood innocence. If you enjoy audiobooks, I would strongly recommend that you go find the version of this narrated by Neil Gaiman.