I’ve been looking forward to reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane for a long time and it didn’t disappoint. It’s about childhood, memory and stories, and is one of those books that begs to be re-read so you can delve into the story further and (perhaps) figure it out more. On the back of the book, there is a quote from Gaiman summing up the book, in which he states that, ‘fundamentally, I hope, at it’s heart, it’s a novel about survival’.
I loved the way that food was represented as a real, tangible comfort in difficult situations. There are delectable and cosy descriptions of the food the protagonist eats:
‘I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy’.
The thing he takes joy in here is spotted dick and custard, an excellent example of the type of food he eats at the farmhouse, all of it typical British comfort food, roast dinners shepherd’s pies, steaming puddings with custard. These simple, small pleasures, enjoying these little things that make you happy, are such a crucial part of taking care of yourself properly. Treating yourself to good food is an excellent way in which to do that.
I also loved the way that the protagonist uses reading as an escape. When he’s in a stressful situation, he retreats into stories. This happens near the beginning of the book:
‘It was a warm spring day, and sunny, and I climbed up a rope ladder to the lowest branch of the big beech tree, sat on it, and read my book. I was not scared of anything when I read my book’
Similar situations happen throughout the novel – reading is an escape and a support for him, and it helps him survive. It shows, I think, the power and importance of stories, helping us make sense of the world around us and helping us to navigate complex situations outside of our control.
This is a rich novel, full of myth and meaning. I would heartily recommend it.