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Beautifully written - but short and a little underwhelming
on 5 May 2014
This is Neil Gaiman we're talking about, so The Ocean at the End of the Lane is well-written, with his characteristic lyrical prose and very original imagery. He also weaves in folklore, as he often does, but this time he includes much less well-known characters such as the gaelic Scathach (and I see this was written on Skye - clearly his inspiration in this case!) as well as mother/maiden/crone stuff.
It is, however, a very simple, short tale, despite the weaving at the front and back ends of half-remembered memory. There are no side plots or secondary characters with interesting tales. It's a bit like a long short story; the novel itself is just 236pp long, with 18pp of commentary and acknowledgements, and 5pp of newspaper/magazine reviews of the novel.
In many ways, it seems like a children's book, but it is probably not suitable for younger children - certainly sensitive or more conservative types - because of one short graphic sexual reference, a suicide (albeit it's a fairly incidental character you have not bonded with), and one's views on what happens near the end (to spell out more would be a spoiler).
Unfortunately when you reach for a novel that has been so heavily reviewed in the media (and they're listed in the book and on this page, so the publisher intends us to take them into account), you have horribly high expectations and it's hard not to expect what the reviews have told you to expect - and if you buy from Amazon, those reviews are critical to making the purchase. In this case, the media reviews often say or imply that the novel has profound views on the nature of childhood and memory. Now, I'm not saying that the book doesn't touch on these issues, but it's no more profound than a number of books in the fantasy genre that don't benefit from such universal reviews.
So, all in all: it's a pretty decent, well-written, short read (I read it in a few hours) and probably great for, say, a train ride or plane trip. But it's not ground-breaking fantasy, and it's awfully short.