The Ocean at the End of the Lane relates the reflections of the unnamed narrator’s past through a colorful and entertaining world of fantasy and fairytales to communicate important concepts about a person’s transition from childhood to adulthood and the differences in thought processes and perceptions of children and adults. Gaiman incites feelings, images, and ideas that take the reader back to childhood; and, he unveils the distance, alienation, and longing the narrator experiences as an adult, in attempting to go back and remember people, places, and events exactly as they once were. Through the lens of well-crafted imagination and fancy, the reader absorbs and visualizes the narrator’s unusual tale, ending the journey thinking differently about his or her own relationship with his identity and the past.
As the narrator travels to his childhood home, trying to remember it as it was, he shows the reader that something intangible separates the ideas and perceptions of childhood from the memories and experiences of adults. He points out that in his mind, he only exists as a child in the places from his past, leading to sense of estrangement. Then, he retains the ability to recall his memories as he experienced them, which allows the realization that children have more insight than adults realize. He recollects, “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.” (112) He remembers ideas and points-of-view he only knew back then. In this way, the narrator represents a self-awareness that is missing in adults. His pursuit of recollection and truth in moments long forgotten is a reminder for the reader to open-mindedly approach the present as a child does.
The author uses inventiveness and creativity to build a world, which takes the reader back in time, and allows him or her more receptive, youthful thoughts. Gaiman introduces the reader to the adult narrator, who dismisses the magic from his past as unrealistic and invalid. Next, he exposes the reader to the child’s memories, so the reader is challenged along with the narrator, to see and feel how memories change, are lost, and distorted with time. Now, the reader sees the divide between concepts and events a child thinks and believes and those an adult accepts, such as the idea, “I was no longer cold and I knew everything and I was not hungry and the whole big, complicated world was simple and graspable and easy to unlock. I would stay here for the rest of time in the ocean which was the universe which was the soul which was all that mattered.” (145) Gaiman asks the reader, to think like a child, which allows for a different kind of incite. The author uses imagery and invention to distinguish between the emotions, thoughts, and experiences of child and adult in ways which connect the reader to both. Thus, the reader understands and relates to the child who accepts the reality of his circumstances without question, and the adult who does not believe in the accuracy of his own memories or in the possibility of the unexplained.
Gaiman’s novella is a successful journey in the heart and mind of the reader, whom Gaiman wisely observes, always maintains elements of both child and adult. With this keen observation in tow, he shapes an original universe, where the adult mind enjoys, ponders, and participates in the wondrous recollections of a child. It is common knowledge that the past is gone, and you can’t go back in time. Gaiman proves this concept wrong.
Rating: 4 out of 5