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The Ocean at the End of the Laneby Neil Gaiman
Publication: William Morrow Books on June 18th 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Horror
Better World Books • Book Depository • Goodreads
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.
A groundbreaking work from a master, 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. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’m convinced that Neil Gaiman is a little bit magical. Maybe even more than a little bit. Every book I’ve read by him is captivating in a unique way, but the common factor with each is generally an ethereal, eerie sort of mystery and enchantment–it’s compelling and creepy and wonderfully Gaiman. It’s a formula that works–and works well.
The “weirdness” of this book is actually reminiscent of the sort you encounter in Gaiman’s Coraline… just amplified and more mature. I found myself rereading passages just to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me and I did really just read that View Spoiler »the Hempstock women grow kittens on their farm « Hide Spoiler and View Spoiler »the being our protagonist mistook for a large pink and gray canvas tent actually became the villain of the story « Hide Spoiler. It’s bizarre and I love it.
The characters are complex, developed, and utterly human (except when they aren’t meant to be). The Hempstock women are captivating, Ursula Monkton is terrifying, and the unnamed protagonist’s seven-year-old self is innocent and brave and realistic–at least as realistic as one would imagine a seven-year-old to be in his extraordinary circumstances.
I turned the final page in this book wishing that there was just a little bit more to read about this man with such a terrifying, mesmerizing childhood and the peculiar girl at the end of the lane. I would (and almost certainly will) recommend this book to others and read it again someday–probably when I’ve got a few more years under my belt and a little more reason to be nostalgic for my own childhood.