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

15 07 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Read by Neil Gaiman

Harper Audio

Length: 5 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: I loved every moment of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is the rare book that from the wonderful start to the bitter end, kept me enthralled in its words, a prisoner to the next sentence and situation. The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me of why I read.

Grade: A

I really love the magical fogginess of childhood. I lived a pretty mundane childhood where the only magic I experienced was through books and deep within my own imagination. I lived in a series of older homes, with many rooms full of older furniture, none of which lead me into magical kingdoms. I grew up in a time where children could go off on little adventures, and I did, climbing hills to the train tracks, crawling under highways through the drainage tunnels, all things that nowadays would give modern parents anxiety disorders or orders of protection. While I enjoyed these little jaunts, I never did meet a crazy old German man living alone in a drafty old house of mystery, or three old sisters living together with a menagerie of cats, their home full of strange music. All the magic of my childhood came from external sources…. or did it? One of the saddest things for me was discovering that the older Pensevie children stopped believing in Narnia. Here they were given the ultimate magical adventure, and their maturity stripped it away from them. This saddened me as a child, but now it gives me a bit of hope. Maybe that underground drainage pipe was actually a magical portal to another world, and I did go off on a grand adventure. Maybe I did meet an old werewolf or three witches and discovered that the monsters of literature may not be the true monsters. Because there was magic in my mundane childhood, and even if this magic came from books and my own daydreams, it existed, and just maybe, the fogginess of my childhood and the maturity of a teenager allowed me to delude myself into believe this magical was merely the whimsy of a lonely boy.

Returning to a childhood home, a man takes a walk down to the end of the lane where he meets the mother of a friend long forgotten. As a flood of memories overtakes him his is transported to his childhood, where a man’s suicide and his new friend leads to an encounter with a sinister new Nanny who has seemed to entrance his family. Unlike any other author I can think of, Neil Gaiman reminds me of the true magic of reading. No matter what he is writing about, whether it’s dark modern contemporary fantasy, fairy tales or even horror, I always feel transported when I read Gaiman to a place where I never feel safe, but find oddly comforting. Despite the darkness that permeated The Ocean at the End of the Lane, it is full of whimsical magic, characters I wish I knew and the feeling that I am being included in a once in a lifetime adventure. It’s nearly impossible for me to critically review anything by Neil Gaiman, I can just talk about how it made me feel. I simply found it impossible to separate myself from the tale. For the nearly six hours I was listening to this novel, it we me who was betrayed by those I loved, frustrated that no one would believe me, and fascinated by this strange new family I met just down the road. This is something I really haven’t fully experienced since those days I spend as child in Narnia, traveling the Yellowbrick road on my way to the Phantom Tollbooth. Yet, despite this magic of childhood, The Ocean at the End of the Lane isn’t a book for children. It’s a book for adults who once were children living many different lives. It is a book about nostalgia on par with Lev Grossman’s Magician novels, yet with a much more subtle beauty. All the little touches just reminded me of what it was like to be a child, the petulant sibling, the oblivious adults, and the darkness that lies behind every door. It reminded me of the wisdom that only children can have to see beyond the mundane, and accept things that we adults know are not possible. There is a true wisdom in ignorance of the world, and this naivety is the core of all childhood magic. I loved every moment of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is the rare book that from the wonderful start to the bitter end, kept me enthralled in its words, a prisoner to the next sentence and situation. The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me of why I read.

It’s interesting. Although Neil Gaiman’s voice is very familiar to me through the intros to his audiobook line, and a few short stories, this is my first time listening to him narrate a full novel. I remember as a child, watching my first baseball game, as the pitcher came to the plate to bat, I thought about how pitchers must be good hitters because they would know all the tricks. This was before I understood that in most cases skill outshines knowledge. This is the same mentality I have about author’s narrating their own books. In my childish mind, authors should be the best narrators of their work since they truly understand the intent of their words, yet, rarely in execution does this end up working. There is a skill that the professional narrator has that goes beyond understanding the intent of a word. Luckily for us who love the written word spoke aloud, Neil Gaiman has this skill. His reading of The Ocean at the End of the Lane was so full of everything that made the book special, that allowing anyone else to read it would have done the novel a disservice. Listening to Gaiman read, you just couldn’t help but realize that he was doing something he simply loved, telling people stories. I couldn’t help but smile when in the beginning, he told us that the book was written and narrated by "Me, Neil Gaiman." I think for any other author, this would have came off pretentious, but with Gaiman it was like he was a child telling you, "Hey guys, I get to read you this story I wrote and love." The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells me what everyone seemed to already know, that Gaiman’s worlds should be discovered through the spoken word, especially if he is the one speaking them.