Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #97: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman


Halt, the contrarian approacheth! Hey, now, I take offense to that moniker. I can’t help it if I happen to disagree with public opinion more than your average person, especially when it comes to Neil Gaiman. And it’s not for lack of trying. According to Goodreads, Neil Gaiman is my third most read author with 20 books, behind only Stephen King (39) and Kurt Vonnegut (21). It’s easy to like Gaiman the person, despite his pairing with Amanda Palmer defying explanation in my opinion, but liking Gaiman the author is more of a challenge.

He’ll forever have my respect and admiration for having written The Graveyard Book, but everything else pales in comparison. The first couple volumes of the Sandman series are honorable mentions and that’s all. Gaiman continues to let me down one way or another with each book of his I read not named The Graveyard Book, yet still I keep coming back and my expectations remain higher than they rightly should be based upon past experience. Gaiman is the king of geekdom, according to Pajiba, so of course I expect more of him than I would of most authors with so disappointing a track record. Anyone and everyone I see talk about Gaiman can’t say enough good about the man. I only want to see, if only for a brief moment, what they see.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, unfortunately, allowed no such glimpse into their minds. As with most of the later entries in the Sandman series, I found the prose dull, and the fantastical plot not very fantastical. Perhaps it’s because I’ll forever hold up any “adult” work of fantasy up to the essentially unattainable standard set by Pan’s Labyrinth, but nothing in The Ocean at the End of the Lane struck me as fresh or particularly imaginative. Gaiman seems to make a living leaning on genre tropes, on retelling stories that’ve already been retold in various forms. For some, that’s a positive. Clearly, I’m not one of those people, and I’ll leave it there, lest I incur even more wrath from the Gaiman faithful.


Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

4 thoughts on “Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #97: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

  1. Maybe you should stop reading Neil Gaiman books? You don’t seem to like him as an author.

    I had to stop reading certain authors once I realized they weren’t for me. Reading their books become an exercise in masochism and schadenfreude.

    • If Neil Gaiman were even slightly less talented, I’d be able to quit him. But, while none of his work matches The Graveyard Book, there’s enough there to like for me to stick with him in spite of my better judgment. Especially when you factor in MirrorMask, the episodes he’s written for Doctor Who, and the movie adaptations of Stardust and Coraline. I still can’t reconcile my love for the movie with my disinterest in the book when it comes to Stardust, even though they’re not too drastically different.

      Speaking of stopping reading certain authors, though, I’ve decided I’m doing that with Joe Hill now. When I read 20th Century Ghosts, I thought my dislike for it was due to him just not being a natural short story writer. I’d thought his two novels were okay. Then I tried to read NOS4A2 and all I saw was bland prose. I made it about a chapter before I said to myself “okay, experiment over. Sorry, Joe Hill.” If he’d written something on par with The Graveyard Book, I’d have been more forgiving, but he has yet to wow me in any sense of the word. Continued mediocrity is almost worse, at least more frustrating, than lots of the truly terrible.

      • I’m done with Neil Gaiman. I always feel bad when I don’t LOVE his books the way a good geeky girl should. And I just don’t want to deal with it anymore. I’m so glad you read this one so that I can now stand up and say “thanks, but no thanks, Neil”.
        Also, I’m with you re: Joe Hill. I really liked most of Horns (no, not the ending), and loved the last story in 20th Century Ghosts. But NOS4A2, jeez, that one left a bad taste in my mouth. And it seems that the more time goes by, the worse I think that book was.
        But Joe Hill has that really cool Tardis in his kitchen, so there’s that.

  2. It’s good to hear different perspectives. I sometimes wonder if half of the positive reviews out there are forced. Neil Gaiman is sometimes discussed as if he’s untouchable–like nobody is allowed to dislike anything he writes.

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