Literacy 2023: Book 13: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman’s fairy tale about childhood, magic, memory, and forgetting

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A man returns to his childhood home and feels compelled to visit the farmhouse at the end of his street. While there, he remembers the first time he visited the farm as a seven-year-old, when he met his friend 11-year-old Lettie Hempstead, along with her mother and grandmother, and went on an errand that brought back something horrible.


  • Neil Gaiman in his element, writing about all the things he does best: magic, myth, wonder mixed with terror, childhood, and the melancholy of adulthood.
  • Doesn’t pull its punches, feeling genuinely dark and horrifying but without crossing the line into gratuitous violence or edginess.
  • Combines all of the flavors of terror unique to childhood: fear of monsters, fear of getting in trouble, fear of loneliness and abandonment, and the sinking feeling that you’ve done something wrong that you can never take back.
  • Feels epic and weighty in scope while remaining a focused, concise story โ€” it feels exactly as big as it needs to be.
  • You only realize after the fact that there is a non-magical explanation for everything; the story as presented seems so much more matter-of-fact and more real than any attempt to explain what really must’ve happened.


  • A little bit too vague for the sake of maintaining a sense of mystery. This is absolutely not a book about the “rules” of magic, and is instead meant to evoke feelings and the sense of impossibly ancient forces at work. That said, I still wish that there had been more of a sense of structure to what was going on, instead of characters constantly speaking in riddles.

This is Neil Gaiman doing what he does best, and it’s one of his most satisfying books. He has a talent for writing about childhood and magic that conveys the full weight and melancholy of adulthood, but with a sense that as grown-ups, magic is only mostly dead to us, not entirely.