“A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home and is drawn to the farm at the end of the road where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl and her mother and grandmother. As he sits by the pond behind the ramshackle old house, the unremembered past comes flooding back—a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
A groundbreaking work as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark, 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.” (back cover of book)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is first and foremost a book about childhood. It’s about the wonder, the confusion, the innocence, and perhaps the most powerful of all, the powerlessness we all experience as children. Since this is a Neil Gaiman book there is of course the thread of the magic intertwined with reality but it is done so charmingly that it doesn’t feel impossible.
The story begins with a middle aged man returning to his hometown to attend a funeral and while he is there, he is reminded of memories of his childhood when he first befriended a young girl named Lettie Hempstock. Lettie along with her mother and grandmother live at the farm at the end of the road by the narrator’s house (we never find out the main character’s name). After a man kills himself near their farm, a cataclysm of events begin to unfold. A darkness has been let out into the world and seems dead set on destroying the family of our young narrator. Lettie becomes a protector and we learn that she is not just any ordinary 7 year old girl.
While this book does contain other worldly fantastical creatures and storylines, it never feels contrived. Gaiman is so adapt at adding just enough surprise and magic into his writing that the fantastical seems natural and even possible. The first book I ever read by him was Stardust and The Ocean at the End of the Lane captured that same tender excitement my heart felt as I dove into the world of Stardust.
There were parts to this book that were absolutely gripping and a scene with a worm that is one of the craziest scenes I have ever read (I don’t want to give too much away). While this book is a short read, it is a completely fleshed out story and one that feels much richer than 178 pages could possibly hold. The ending is haunting and mysterious and you are left wanting more which to me is always the sign of a great book.
“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”
“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the lane, ways that would not involve walking down our drive.”
“How can you be happy in this world? You have a hole in your heart. You have a gateway inside you to lands beyond the world you know. They will call you, as you grow.”
“I wondered if that was true: if they were all really children wrapped up in adult bodies, like children’s books hidden in the middle of dull, long adult books, the kind with no pictures or conversations.”
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