'The Ocean at the End of the Lane,' is being hailed as Gaiman's first book for adults in eight years. But is it really?
Childhood memories that have been buried, but never forgotten: that's the territory of "Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman. Critics seem to be treating Gaiman's latest as a fairy tale for adults, but more serious – and even occasionally dour – rather than whimsical.
The plot involves a man on his way to his sister's home in rural England (Sussex, where Gaiman himself grew up), who deviates from the path, finds a dilapidated house, and is hit with a sudden feeling that he's been there before. Apparently he has – when he was seven.
The narrative then follows the protagonist into the past, where he recalls his friend, Lettie, and how she and her less-than-normal family helped him out when strange things were going on around town. It all started when a man boarding with the protagonist's family decided to take his own life. This led to a chain of further events and suddenly, out of the blue, the protagonist had a governess, Ursula Monkton (can't you already tell how awful she is?), to deal with.
Entertainment Weekly's reviewer finds that the book and many of its characters, particularly the governess, have potential – but not the narrator.
"The narrator is never named, but he's clearly a Gaiman analog, and the description of his rural upbringing has the pleasant specificity of autobiography," states the EW review. "Unfortunately, the protagonist is also the novel's least compelling character." As for the story itself, EW offers a mixed report (and a grade of B-): "As a coming-of-age reverie, Ocean is a fitfully interesting trifle, but you're constantly catching glimpses of a more interesting, darker, stranger tale farther down the lane."