The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Harper Collins
Number of pages: 181
My copy: paperback, from Fully Booked
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.
* * *
I wish I could say I’m a huge, huge Gaiman fan like my other friends are, but really, the only Gaiman book I’ve read in my life is Stardust. I read it twice and loved it, and I always associate good memories with that book. I meant to read more Gaiman, but the only other book I have at home is The Graveyard Book, which has been in two of our book club’s polls but kept on losing to other books so I had no reason to pick it up anytime soon. I knew he was one of those really awesome authors (plus he has the most awesome New Year’s messages), and I know I had to read more of his works but it just doesn’t really come up in the priority list. So when my friends started raving about The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I was only mildly curious.
Until I saw the book, touched it and realized how pretty the physical copy was. Needless to say, after a few moments of touching the cover, I went ahead and bought the book. Yes, I am easily swayed like that.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short book, about an unnamed narrator who visits his childhood home and goes to the end of the road, where he remembers his childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. It started with a man who lived with them who committed suicide, and then all sorts of weird things happened after that, trapping him in a bizarre world that has enchanted his family. It’s too much for a little boy to deal with on his own, except that he wasn’t really alone because his new friend Lettie promised to protect him at all costs.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane held me captive from the first page. It had a lovely sort of storytelling that was comforting and creepy at the same time — you know it’s not real, but there’s that fear of the things that our hero is getting himself into. I liked how honest and quiet the narration is, how the hero as a boy tried to make sense of things and be brave, even if things are getting creepier and creepier. You can feel all the doubt and worry and fear in him, and I wanted so much for him to prevail, for him to find a way out of things and save his family. It felt a little bit like a fairy tale, with how everything was set up, but also not so much, because there were really some frightening instances. Not scary in the sense of ghosts, or how horror movies were scary, but more of I’m so scared for you type of terror.
I think my favorite part of the entire story is the hero’s friendship with Lettie. It’s easy to nitpick on the Hempstocks and their abilities, but I won’t because other reviewers have done that already. I’d like to focus more on how Gaiman wrote the friendship — it was my most favorite part of the book. I liked how Lettie stood by him and protected him up to the end. It made the ending a lot more bittersweet, and full of heart. Yes, heart. That’s the right word to use — especially with what I one of the Hempstocks said to the hero near the end of the book:
I think you’re doing better than you were the last time we saw you. You’re growing a new heart, for a start.
Suffice to say that after reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I will start working on reading more Gaiman. If all his books has the same kind of lovely storytelling, then I certainly don’t want to miss out. :)