The Ocean at the End of the Lane may be one of the most difficult books for me to try to write my thoughts down about, and that’s mostly because it’s so absolutely otherworldly (literally and figuratively, but more figuratively than literally, actually). It’s fascinating, I’ll start there. It’s a fascinating book to experience; and even if don’t make a habit of reading from the fantasy genre I really do recommend, sometime or other, that you try this one. Neil Gaiman’s latest novel is the story of a remarkable trio of ladies, three generations of Hempstock women: young Lettie, her mother Ginnie, and the wizened Old Lady Hempstock, Lettie’s grandmother. We’re told the story through the eyes of a middle-aged man as he revisits the Hempstock farm, down the lane from his boyhood home. He was seven years old when a stranger committed suicide at the end of the lane and unleashed a form of evil our world has never known. This was when the boy met Lettie Hempstock and the women of Hempstock farm, where there was a duck pond that Lettie claimed was really an ocean; this was when the boy inadvertently witnessed things too terrible and astonishing to be remembered, but too real to be forgotten. Despite not reading much of the mystical genre from which we’ll categorize this book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane felt very familiar, and I constantly wondered about that. Gaiman has a way of effecting a sort of Tim-Burton-of-literature appeal, but what he creates is very much his own art; there was no way for me to say I’ve read this story before, done up in some other way, because I simply haven’t. It took me a while to pin down exactly why it felt familiar, and then it hit me, rather remarkably: because the world in which The Ocean at the End of the Lane takes place, the deep and dark and philosophical world, is childhood. Where most books pull us (and wonderfully so) into their worlds, this one does such a fascinating thing: it sends us into ourselves, into our memories of what it was like to be a child and how everything was possible and stories were real life – the good stories, and the evil ones. This was so interesting to me; and it was such a bizarre experience, I’ll tell you, and I really did love it. This is exactly the best kind of example of how some authors are actually wizards, and words are actually magic.
Though it's a short, slight novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane made a very big impression. In some moments I wasn't all there, I was grossed out or confused or utterly bewildered, but I was also so deeply fascinated by what this book was doing that I found myself enjoying every moment (even though – and you'll understand this if you've read the story – I was checking the bottom of my foot for quite a while afterward and throughout). There were times when I thought that, because this was a story about children and being seen (essentially) through the eyes of a child, it wasn't as much of a Grown-Up book as I was expecting it to be. It's been advertised pretty soundly as Gaiman’s first adult novel in some time, but for all intents and purposes it felt very young, very childlike. The really interesting thing, though, was that it seemed to strip away my sort of subconscious pretense of what makes something a Grown-Up thing. Not only does Gaiman, through his beautifully odd story and dreamily quirky writing, send us back into our childhoods, but he reminds us of how it is to see life as a child, and that maybe everything else is just a mask. The Ocean at the End of the Lane feels almost like an homage to the sometimes-perfect, sometimes-scary place that is the childhood imagination; and it reminds the reader that such a place will always exist within us.
Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane Author: Neil Gaiman Genre: fantasy Publisher: William Morrow Available Formats: hardcover, e-book Release date: June 18, 2013 Source: Personal Collection Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | BetterWorldBooks Connect with the author: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads