Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
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.
I’ve only read a few books by Neil Gaiman, but I’m a huge fan of his work – especially the more whimsical bits of it, which this one more than delivers on.
Like with Good Omens, I listened to the audio book for this one, and there was something extra magical about the fact that it was Neil Gaiman performing it. His actual voice lends such a soothing tone to the story, a realness to the main character that makes me wonder how much of the story really came from his childhood. If he told me it was all true, I wouldn’t hesitate to believe him, such was the power of his voice telling the story.
The story itself is one of childhood remembrance, loss, pain, and a million other life lessons we learn as we grow up. It’s the story of a man looking back on a less than happy childhood he might not entirely remember, but misses to an extent, the way all adults miss a ‘simpler’ time. Though looking back on it, the main character’s childhood wasn’t simple at all. From its fantastic worlds to its terrifying monsters, this story was a ride from start to finish. The mythos of the world – though only briefly explained – felt very real, and reminded me of Neverwhere. There’s no exposition to explain what’s happening, no detailed explanation of the rules, but that doesn’t make it any less fleshed-out or believable. If anything, the vagueness of it adds to its mystery and gravity, and to our ability to relate to the main character.
I can’t get over how good this book is. It’s a prime example of Neil Gaiman’s expertise at weaving words into a story that touches you and lingers long after you’ve finished. If you’ve always wanted to read something by him and don’t know where to start, definitely start here!