Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

ImageTitle: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: 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.

Review: How are you supposed to review this story when it will mean different things to different people?

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is my first Neil Gaiman novel and I am blown away by the way he has reached into the nostalgia of childhood to present a story that reads like a fable. On the day of a funeral the narrator returns to the lane which held his childhood home and that of an old friend named Lettie Hempstock. In the back of Lettie’s home is a pond that she used to insist was an ocean, and as the narrator stares at it he recollects the memory of what happened to him when he was seven years old. It is a tale of magic, monsters, fear, sacrifice, belonging, and so much more; it is an extreme tale that stretches the realm of disbelief, yet simultaneously makes us wonder whether or not the child sees the truth of reality, which has been forgotten by the adult.

“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 the rhododendrons, to find the space between fences.”

Gaiman’s writing is so succinct and precise in this 185-paged novel, leaving me with the impression that he never uses more words than are entirely necessary. In the urgency of telling the tale the language he uses is so simple, yet everything feels so important and weighed down with plenty of meaning. This is a book that must be read again and again to understand all that has been said.

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