A lot of Gaiman’s pet themes are on display in “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” – the ethereality of memory, the interplay between childhood and adulthood, the use of fantasy and storytelling as a coping mechanism, belief and consciousness as ontological underpinnings of reality – but there’s a kind of unique feeling of earnestness that distinguishes it from a lot of his other work.
While “American Gods” shares some of the novel’s melancholy and apparent autobiographical nature (”The Ocean at the End of the Lane” drawing from Gaiman’s childhood, “American Gods” drawing from his adult travels), it never goes for the kind of discomfort and gravitas that “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” does in its more uncomfortable scenes. Gaiman’s depiction of childhood is remarkably unpatronising, and he captures a sort of cool dispassion that’s easy to forget, a glum acceptance of powerlessness.
The more fantasy aspects of the book are intriguing and lovely in their own way, but it’s the tone of the book that struck me more. For all the ways the book is children’s fantasy – in genre, the narrative as it’s presented, perhaps the narrative itself as being a fantasy of the protagonist – it’s uncharacteristically free of whimsy, dissimilar to something like Gaiman’s own “The Graveyard Book”.
Both in the narrative and out of it, the book is a captivating exploration of the role fantasy plays throughout one’s life. I give it four worms, and a hole.