I've sat here for an hour, strumming my lip, trying to think of a way to describe this book… the way I think of it is this: if somewhere in the world there is a machine that converts words into stardust (or stardust into words, either will do) then this book oozes innocence and nostalgia and sea salt. It's book that's powered by magic and driven by forgotten memories. It is a gritty and realistic novel, but comes from a different place entirely.
Author: Neil Gaiman | Publisher: Headline Review | Pages: 248 | Source: Gift |
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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.
MY THOUGHTS: As a reader with blog conveniently named Feed Me Books Now, I often joke that I devour novels… and yet here, it's the book doing the devouring. This tale of memory and myth engulfed me entirely and left me floundering about in the darkness. In all simplicity, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a powerhouse of a novel – it's short in length, but rich in imagery, characters and storytelling. If you're looking for a novel that will drag you to a delicate and dangerous alternate reality then, surely, this is your best bet.
“All monsters are scared. That's why they're monsters.”
It's also a very Gaiman novel… fans of the author will know what I mean here. It explores the fine line between childhood and adulthood, dreams and nightmares, and, Gaiman's sort-of-trademark: the power of stories. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is enchanting, haunting and harrowing… it's everything you could ever ask for from this master storyteller – and so much more. If you're fan of him, you won't be disappointed. And if you've never read anything by him, here is a perfect place to start!
As for characters, the naivety, fragility and confused nature of the narrator was both endearing and entrancing; you can think of him as a Peter Pan of our world – the boy who never grew up. And for me, that's exactly what he symbolises: being a child and fearing the "monsters" of the adult world. Gaiman has delved deep into this character and captured all of his thoughts, his memories, his feelings and enclosed them in a time capsule… a capsule the reader opens and delves through, just as Gaiman did.
“I liked myths. They weren't adult stories and they weren't children's stories. They were better than that. They just were.”
Admittedly, there were a few moments in the novel when the magic faltered, the machine broke and the words were no longer stardust… the paragraphs became chunky and broken, the pages became confused and the words ran wild… but, let's ignore this, eh? The Ocean at the End of the Lane was near perfect, and that's good enough for me.
“I saw the world I had walked since my birth and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.”
In One Word?
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is morbidly beautiful… it lures you into the thick of the tale, only to twist your thoughts, your feelings, your mind… Neil Gaiman has created a novel that has complete control of the reader, one which is stunning, enchanting and alluring.