Neil Gaiman‘s oeuvre contains graphic novels, short stories, children’s books, novels, a movie, and most recently, a video game. Each of his worlds is unique and complete. Regardless of how fantastical his stories become and how impossible his worlds are, what always exists are strong, empathetic characters with reason and accountability. That is what holds his creations together, a sense of understanding who the characters are before Gaiman takes us into unknown worlds with fantasy creatures that cannot be fully imagined in one’s head. His language is magnificent, effortless, and efficient. The dialogue is perfection: he had a lot of practice creating concise communication to fit into those panels and word balloons.
Gaiman’s most recent work, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about the adventures and friendship of a boy and girl as recollected by the young boy as an adult. The narrator was a lone child: he remembers a birthday party to which everyone in his class received invitations and none of them attended,
I do not remember ever asking any of the other children in my class at school why they had not come to my party. I did not ned to ask them. They were not my friends, after all. They were just the people I went to school with. . . .
I had books, and now I had my kitten. We would be like Dick Whittington and his cat, I knew, or, if Fluffy proved particularly intelligent, we would be the miller’s son and Puss-in-Boots. The kitten slept on my pillow, and it even waited for me to come home from school, sitting on the driveway in front of my house, by the fence, until, a month later, it was run over by the taxi that brought the opal miner to stay at my house. (10)
His novella moves quickly, we experience multiple emotions in the previous seven sentences: sadness over his party; perhaps commiseration if you too were an awkward, misunderstood child; happiness that he has a sanctuary in books; love and gratitude for his kitten; excitement for the future of him and his kitten; absolute devastation over the death of this kitten (that you just believed would be his companion for the length of the novella); and curiosity over who this opal miner is; and wonder as to why he is staying in the boy’s home.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is so wonderful because Neil Gaiman describes actions and story through a young boy’s words and understanding. Things sometimes read slightly off because Gaiman is using a boy’s perception of events and sometimes the boy doesn’t understand what he sees. We as readers, can easily comprehend what the boy does not. And the novella is just as uniquely beautiful as the title itself, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. New York: Harper Collins, 2013.