I’ve made this review as spoiler-free as possible… there are no major plotline giveaways, but if you want the book to be a complete surprise then don’t scroll down past the book cover!
Like other Neil Gaiman books, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a first-world fantasy. The events happen not in a made up land, or a galaxy far far away, but in our world. However, it’s our world with the safety cordons taken away, a place without the usual limits, one where reality shifts sideways.
I’d say this is suitable for an adult or possibly an young adult audience rather than children because while the central character is 7 years old, I think this would be beyond the reading capabilities of the average under 12 and would probably be a bit too scary as well, because it deals in part with what happens when the things you rely on to keep you safe as a child – home, family, routine – are suddenly removed.
It’s a very different book to American Gods – for one thing it’s a much quicker read. The action is densely packed and the plot quite intense, in fact if anything it was a touch too fast moving for me, but then I liked the slow build up and cycles in American Gods when some people criticised them.
The story is well defined and tension builds well. Like all of Gaiman’s novels, it has quite a filmic feel. It’s almost like it’s written with camera shots and scenes in mind and he has a real talent for encapsulating the feel of a place in relatively little detail. The characters are very believable and have distinct, clear personalities, well communicated by little quirks of dialogue so that even if you weren’t told who was speaking at a certain point, you’d be able to tell from their style.
There’s not much to criticise here, but if I was going to pick on a couple of things, I’d say that the older Hempstocks could have been a little more fleshed out, particularly Lettie’s mother, and that the ending felt a bit flat and depressing. This is almost certainly intentional, and probably a bit more mature than a “they all lived happily ever after” but it left me feeling a bit empty after investing all that time and emotion in reading it.