~This is not a sponsored review. I picked this up at the library because I love Neil Gaiman.~
I am a Neil Gaiman devotee, so perhaps I am a little biased in his work. I honestly feel he is one of the most intelligent (and often humorous) writers of dark fantasy and fairytales that has come out of the fabric of the universe. I was excited to see his new novel on the shelf at the library since he hasn’t written an adult novel since Anansi Boys in 2005!
The Ocean at the End of the Lane had started out as a short story that Gaiman was writing for his wife Amanda when she was far away and he missed her, it then formed into a novella and eventually became a novel. It begins with a man who is returning home after a funeral and who finds himself taking an old track to a place he remembered 40 years earlier. Sitting on a bench, overlooking the water, he and the story take you to the beginning.
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother.
He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.
For me, it is really a telling of how thin the fabric of our reality is or what we perceive we and the world around us are. The differences in our perception from childhood to adulthood, the paths we take and the wondering if our lives (or what we do with our lives) is of worth to those that have given them to us.
“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”
The Hempstock family in the story refers to many other Hempstock women, some of which you might find in other Gaiman works, such as Stardust and The Graveyard Book. Some of the parts in the story are actually taken from his memories, such as when the family car is stolen and the person who took it committed suicide in it. These small details make the story all the more interesting, but it is honestly the telling of how our reality and other realms are so closely merged that they mirror each other that grips you from the very first page.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is so easy to read that it is almost as if you are looking into your own memories and recalling details that are fragmented. There is an easy pace to the book that lets you relax into it, to peer inside and dream and wonder and never be able to look at shadows or the silver moonlight the same way. You never know the narrators name as he could be anyone, just as the Hempstock farm could be just a farm and the ocean could be just a pond. It allows you to become the character and where his thoughts as he enters a world outside of his reality, hand in hand with a little girl who may or may not be what she seems.
I love this story. I’m delighted to see that it was picked up to be produced by Tom Hanks and directed by Joe Wright who has directed some of my favorite films: Pride & Prejudice, Attonement and Anna Karenina! I can’t wait to see how they move this small world into the big screen, but I think it holds a very special message between the lines of fantasy that each person has to seek for themselves. As Old Lady Hempstock said:
“Different people remember things differently.”
You can pick this up at the library as I had, or you can purchase The Ocean at the End of the Lane for $15.22 on Amazon. It is certainly a book that you could turn to again and again and always find something new at the end of the lane.