Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 2013, Harper Collins
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
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.
If you are unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman, you are really missing out. I have read American Gods, it's sequel(ish) Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book, and Coraline. His writing style is a kind of fantastical realism that is completely twisted, but in a good way. He writes fiction for both adults and children. So when I found out he was releasing a new book in June, I waited impatiently for it to be available at my local library.
I was not disappointed. Gaiman has a way of writing that makes the events in this book seem like it could actually happen. I ate up this story in two evenings of reading. It's pretty short at only about 180 pages (or if you read the large-print edition like I did, 246 pages). Even though I was exhausted after working ten hour days, the story was engrossing enough that I had trouble putting it down so I could get enough sleep.
Without giving away too much, when this boy and his father head down to see about their stolen car, Lettie Hempstock offers to keep him busy at her family's farm. He meets Lettie's mother and grandmother and shows the boy the pond out back, which she claims is the ocean. Two days later, the boy has a strange dream with a very real result and decides to ask Lettie what is happening. After eating breakfast with the Hempstocks, the boy tags along with Lettie as she sets off into the woods to do a task. One small movement during this task sets off a chain of events that throw the boys life for a strange and magical loop.
This book is dark and weird. It reads like a fairy tale for adults. I loved the way Gaiman was able to make the reader feel like you are getting a true glimpse into how a child's mind works. These are some of my favorite quotes from the book.
"Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world."
"Small children believe themselves to be gods, or some of them do, and can only be satisfied when the rest of the world goes along with their way of seeing things."
"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 lived in books more than I lived anywhere else."
I loved this book more than American Gods or Anansi Boys. Probably because I prefer that innocent point of view that could only come from a child. It is a refreshing change from my own pessimistic, jaded viewpoint. It would also make a good introduction to Neil Gaiman's writing style to someone who is not familiar with magical realism in fiction.
I am going to buy my own copy of this book. I definitely think it will be a good addition to my overflowing bookshelves.