Mini Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman

William Morrow Books
Released June 18, 2013
181 pages
Fantasy / Faerie Tale-esque / Kid Friendly Sort Of

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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 am a Neil Gaiman fan girl. I won’t ever try to deny that. Gaiman single-handedly destroyed my preconceived notions of modern fantasy literate as an adolescent. Neverwhere is the first book that comes to mind when asked what my favorite book is. Sandman was my gateway into mature comics. Neil Gaiman may be my hero.

So I’m not entirely sure why it took me so long to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Perhaps I knew that, once finished, I might not be getting new Gaiman words in my hands anytime soon. Maybe I was a little scared that the magic might have disappeared. Whatever it was, this book sat on my shelf for a little too long until it became the monthly book for my book club. I eagerly dived in and wasn’t disappointment.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a children’s tale with an adult wrapper. If you removed the first and last chapters, this could easily be a scary tale to read to children, all about witches and mysterious girls and creepy monsters from alternate realms. For most of the book, the narrator is a small boy, looking at a very strange time in his life in retrospect now that he’s a middle aged man. Whatever perspective you’d expect from a story told by a grown man is non-existent. This book is told as though it’s happening out right to the point that I forgot about the framework around the story being from the point of view of an adult.

Our main character is never named. He’s just a regular boy growing up in a house with his parents and his sister when one day, the family wakes up to find their boarder missing. This starts a bizarre adventure into a twilight world that only the boy seems to see. He meets Lettie, her mother and her grandmother, three slightly strange women that live at the end of the lane. Together they help him ward off evil and turn his life back to normal though not without some serious consequences.

This is a modern faerie tale, a quick read with a bit of a moral underneath the surface. It’s imaginative and written in that classic Neil Gaiman way that’s full of metaphors that seem to live off the page. It’s an incredibly quick read at 181 pages and it’s nothing complicated. This was a great palate cleanser after the number of YA books I’ve read that started blurring together without having to dive into an dense or serious literature. While it might not be a book that sticks with me like Neverwhere, Sandman or Stardust, it’s definitely a book I look forward to revisiting once my nephew is a little bit older and not quite so scared of his own shadow.