“I’m going to tell you something important. 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. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.” (p 112)
If you were to do search for The Ocean at the End of the Lane this week, you would surely find hundreds of reviews about it. Dozens of them have been brilliantly written by friends of Neil Gaiman; these people have Opinions about this book being the best Gaiman has ever written and they are worth reading. They know him and they know great literature, and one way or another, they will tell you the same thing I will.
It is a beautiful book, and you should read it.
You don’t really need to read anything else I have to say about it. “It’s a beautiful book, and you should read it” sums up the general consensus. Everything after this point is just…me.
It’s me wondering how hard it has been for Neil Gaiman to carry around this story. The boy in the book is him. Or at least I believe it’s him. In his acknowledgements, he’s quick to say it isn’t, not really, but it is. Maybe the father is not his father and the house is not his house and the monster is not his monster, but all the same, it’s still him more than any of his other books have been.
I’ve been reading his books and blog for long enough to recognize the drain pipe and escapism and quiet, fearful truths as his. He’s been hinting at this book for years, whether he knew it or not. It became obvious as soon as I started to read. The way the man walked down the road in the prologue, or how there was forgiveness in the end, but also a vein of hurt that never completely opened itself up…
It wasn’t so much like finding his diary, though, as it was burrowing into his memory for an hour or two. It was as I imagined Gaiman’s memory to be – eternally struggling between the dark and the light. It frightened me, but I also knew that I would find goodness there. I wanted to protect the child in these pages, but not too much, because I could imagine the man he would grow to be if he was allowed to face down his own fears. This man would write wonderful stories and then read them aloud to weave the magic and hold it there. He would reveal wonder lurking in all the most ordinary places, even if the luster of it was sometimes worn or sharp-edged or dangerous. He would catch my heart when I was a child and remind me that this was the heart I would always have. I would never grow up, not really, but I would live in the world anyway, and be happy about it, wrapping my hands around the truest truths I understood at seven, and taking them, always, with me.
I have always accepted that this is a world of monsters, although I don’t know if it’s because of how long I’ve been reading books like his, or just who I was meant to be – an anxious believer. In the darkness, there has always been something lurking; it may be an adventure as easily as fear, or it may be a terrible invitation, or it might be just a shadow. The thing about that though, is we need light to see a shadow’s true shape, and to name it. Those troublesome blind spots carve the light into something stronger, and I wield it, and others do, and then both darkness and light are improved by the struggle.
Which is all just my way of saying, it’s a beautiful book, and you should read it.
For more about Neil Gaiman, go here.