Audiobook Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review: The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Length: 5 hrs, 48 mins
Published by Harper Audio on June 18, 2013
Genres: Horror, Magical Realism, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
three-half-stars

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE is a fable that reshapes modern fantasy: moving, terrifying and elegiac - as pure as a dream, as delicate as a butterfly's wing, as dangerous as a knife in the dark, from storytelling genius Neil Gaiman. 

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.

His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.

Review:
Oh, Neil Gaiman. I want to love his books in their entirety, but I have yet to do so. Still, they’re creepy and beautifully-written, words seemingly selected with precision and artistry. In a lot of ways, The Ocean at the End of the Lane reads like his children’s books, rather than an adult novel, but it would probably have scarred my childhood self something fierce.

Why Did I Read This Book?
Neil Gaiman. Hey, I may not have loved all of his books, but I have liked them all thus far, and they’re all interesting. Where he tends to fall a bit flat for me is generally characterization, but I’ve found that his books are all just the slightest bit stronger for me in audio, because it’s such a wildly different reading experience, at least for me, allowing me to appreciate the gorgeous flow of his prose and the delightful lilt of his accent.

What’s the Story Here?
A middle-aged man returns home for a funeral, and, beset by a sense of something missing, he travels down the lane to the house where, in his seventh year, he befriended the strangest girl. Lettie Hempstock she was called, and she was four years older than him, quite ancient really. When he arrives at the farm, Lettie’s not there, but her mother gives him tea and memories arise in him. The older man appears only in the framing chapters, while all the rest consists of the experiences of his seven year old self, as his involvement with the Hempstocks opens him up to a magical and scary world.

How are the Characters?
They seemed fairly well done on the whole, though I still lacked the emotional connection that really makes me care about a fictional character’s fate. Gaiman’s characters are interesting, but sort of lack that dimension that makes them fully real in my heart. The boy, who I don’t think is ever given a name, is a surprisingly weak figure, more a special visitor to the stars, the Hempstocks. He seems a very ordinary boy, not a hero in any way, and I wouldn’t say he really becomes one. In all, I’m not really sure what I was to get out of his journey, but it was certainly fascinating.

And the Horror?
The reason this is being marketed to adults rather than teens is perhaps how creepy it is. Books don’t scare me, so I won’t say I was ever frightened, really, but some of the scenes are haunting. Like Gaiman’s Coraline, he delves into the terror of when your family is NOT your family. There’s little that would be more completely worldshakingly scary than your dad suddenly not acting like your dad or loving you anymore. There’s also an evil nanny and people-eating creatures. It’s the macabre sort of story Neil Gaiman is so good at composing.

How was the Narration?
Yet again, I’m glad I went for the audio, since Neil Gaiman’s always a delight to listen to, even if that does make me sound like a creep. His voice is soothing and well-suited to the sort of dreamy, dark fairy tales he generally writes. Besides, who knows what emphasis to place on words and sentences better than the author. Also, he sang a couple of times, which was fun.

Sum It Up with a GIF:

27 responses to “Audiobook Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

  1. I read a rave review on this same book from another fellow blogger, you don’t sound quite as excited about it, mainly though it sounds like you wanted more from the characters. I’m not sure I’m a total character girl, so I still think the twists, turns and perplexingly creepy plotlines may just be enough to satisfy me. Thanks for a great review and better insight into this story. I’ve not read a book from this author yet.

    • Christina says:

      So did I, actually, but Neil Gaiman’s writing grabs others in a way it doesn’t do for me, though I’ve never regretted reading one of his books or anything like that. I am a total character girl, so odds are high you’ll enjoy it more.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Coraline is my favorite Neil Gaiman, so I’m excited about this one being similarly creepy! Especially since it’s also fairly short! American Gods was way too long for me… I think most of Gaiman’s central characters play the “everyman” (or woman) role so you can easily insert yourself into the story, but like you, I don’t really love his characters. I did like the leads in Stardust, but I read that when I was a lot younger and more romantic…

    I think it’s telling that the main character in The Graveyard Book is named “Nobody.” And coincidentally, I think that’s my least favorite Gaiman book!

    I really do like his books, though, even if this sounds like I don’t…

    • Christina says:

      Actually, I think my favorite is Stardust, followed by The Graveyard Book and then Coraline. American Gods I DNFed pretty early on, but I plan to try again.

      I do think he’s doing the self-insertion thing, but I’m just not a fan of that technique. I know that’s not me, and it always feels so artificial.

    • Stephanie says:

      American Gods is really interesting for the plot and mythology–and I’m sure tons of it went over my head–but the characters in that one really aren’t likable at all. Probably because they’re gods. I haven’t read Anansi Boys or Good Omens, but I want to audiobook them eventually.

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, I definitely do want to try it, but I wasn’t a patient reader back then. I did read Good Omens, and didn’t love it, but I want to try again. I was expecting more overt humor, like Terry Pratchett does, than was the case.

  3. Lesley says:

    I’d agree with you about this, though I’m a huge fan of Gaiman’s work generally. This one just wasn’t quite there for me, it felt like there was something missing but I haven’t been able to put my finger on what it was (which is driving me INSANE and is the reason I haven’t got around to reviewing it yet).

    I read the actual book rather than having the audio book, but I’m shocked it was nearly five hours long. I thought it was a pretty quick read (not as quick as I thought, but still very short).

    • Christina says:

      Ah, that’s too bad. If you figure it out, I’d be curious to hear your view on it. That’s generally how I feel after all of them, but I think that’s because I’m such a character reader, and I’d say that’s last of what he goes for, and that he generally very intentionally leaves them vague.

      Five hours is really short for an audio. Haha. It takes a long time to read a book aloud!

  4. Megan K. says:

    I don’t mind fictional characters you can’t really feel for, as long as something else in the story makes up for it. And, the horror in this one sounds… pretty well done, I guess. I still have to read a book that truly scares the shit out of me, but I can’t say I’m not interested with the horror level in this one. You’re lucky you live in the U.S.! I don’t receive audiobooks here, and they are PRICEY. I’m just going to have to settle for the book instead, and hope I’m not missing out on anything. Great review!

    • Christina says:

      Well, obviously, I can look past that to some degree, since I did still really like this. Characters are necessary for my 4.5 and 5 star ratings, though. Awww, that sucks. Can you not buy from Audible? They have some decent deals I hear.

  5. Bonnie R says:

    Serious, I think all Gaiman’s books should be listened to as long as he continues to narrate them. I opted to listen to this one since my library didn’t purchase the audio but I felt very much the same way. It was a strange yet beautifully written story but by the end I was confused as to what the moral or point of it all was. I was left feeling very confused. Lovely review though. 🙂

    • Christina says:

      For real. I don’t plan to read one of his books again, at least any of the ones I don’t already own. Haha. Too bad you also felt like something was missing. Ah well. Still glad I listened to it.

  6. Amy says:

    I almost got this one, but passed since I have a bunch of other audiobooks to get through. I’m glad that you liked it. I have actually never read any of his books. I feel like I suck horribly and need to go out and get some of them now.

  7. His stuff always freaks me out too…but in a good way. lol Have you read his graphic novels? SANDMAN is my favorite thing he’s written, although there’s always at least one scene in each edition that scares the pants off me.

    • Christina says:

      I’ve read a lot of Sandman. I think I got through three and a half of Absolute Sandman before I had to leave Pittsburgh and its library with the best graphic novel collection ever. That’s definitely my favorite Gaiman as well.

  8. Audra says:

    I’m only a limited Gaiman fangirl so I’m not rushing to this one. Your summary has me less concerned about getting there quickly!

  9. I cannot WAIT to read this. Every review I see makes me more excited for it. I love that Gaiman leans more towards the creep-factor vs horror…the fact that an MG novel like Coraline can give you the same type of creeped-out feeling as this novel is so cool. Thanks for reviewing!

    • Christina says:

      Well, most of this really does read like a middle grade. The frame story puts him at middle age, but the rest of it is about a young boy, seven. He does see a couple things that might not be mg appropriate, but I really think younger readers would be fine.

  10. I think I want this. I love how creepy it sounds but the lack of characterization kind of scares me. Also, very cool that he narrates the audio books by himself, I really wish I could get into audiobooks because I think that is the way I would go with this one. But in the end I will buy it and try it. I held it at the bookstore last week and it’s super short too so if I am not a huge fan of it at least I won’t be suffering through 300 pages of crap.

    • Christina says:

      I suspect you might like it. I just really don’t know, Jenni. Neil Gaiman’s worth reading at some point. I think the eerieness would balance out the characterization for you.

  11. Faye M. says:

    I’ve heard so much about this guy but haven’t read ANY of his books. Not yet, anyway. Even though you have it 3.5, it’s still very positive, and hopefully I’ll get to like it more than you did. And horror! I love horror! Thanks for the review, Christina 🙂

    The Social Potato

    • Christina says:

      Ha, I was going to say I haven’t read many, but I’ve actually read like 6. Lol. So I’m doing pretty well. I think you might like Gaiman.

  12. Kat Balcombe says:

    I couldn’t read all of your review as my copy of this will be freed from the postman kidnappers tomorrow, but I wish I’d gotten the audio version now. I could listen to that man for days….

  13. Amanda says:

    I feel similarly about my experience with Gaiman’s works, so I’m glad I’m not alone! He has truly fascinating ideas, but I have the hardest time connecting with his characters and truly feeling much in relation to his stories. It sounds like perhaps The Ocean at the End of the Lane would be another one of those stories for me. Le sigh. I really like the idea of his stories and him as a person, but I have yet to find a story of his that actually works for me. Thanks for the helpful review, Christina!

  14. Micheline D says:

    The only work of Neil Gaiman’s that I’ve experienced personally are the two Doctor Who episodes he’s written. He does make quite a few appearances on my reading list though so I was curious to your thoughts on this one BUT I appreciate that you shared your thoughts on his other books that you’ve read. I’m definitely more curious now but also kind of scared about the lack of characterization – character development is a biggie for me. Anyways, thanks for the insightful review of this one Christina, I’ll be keeping it in mind when I finally jump in!

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