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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ocean at the end of the laneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Goodreads Description: 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.

My Review:

Opening sentence:

“Nobody came to my seventh birthday party.”

Why had no one gone to his birthday party? Was he new to the area? Was he shy? Was he a social outcast because he was somehow different? What was it? I had only read the first sentence when I began to empathize with the protagonist. I recalled the times in my childhood where I’d felt out-of-place, a little misfit. Neil Gaiman does a remarkable job of stirring those childhood memories to create a connection with the reader.

“Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.”

This story will take you back to your childhood as quickly as the aroma of your mother’s homemade Christmas cookies wafting through the air. Only, it isn’t the pleasant memories that come to mind. You will recall the times you heard or saw things that weren’t evident to adults.

“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.”

I often wonder if, as a child, I was more in tune with the metaphysical world, with the unexplained, the things that go bump in the night. It was the time before I learned to put the world in a neat little box where every odd occurrence could be reasoned with a logical explanation. What about the toy that begins to play in the middle of the night? Oh it’s just a malfunction in the mechanism. What about the trinket that falls off the shelf? Surely it had been accidentally shifted by a person’s touch during the day and finally succumbed to gravity.  What was the flash of light across the bedroom wall? Oh, it was the reflection of a passing car. What was the shadow you saw in your peripheral vision? Well, of course it was just your imagination.

“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.”

Reading this book will cause you to relive that paralyzing childhood fear when you were certain something was lurking under your bed or in your closet, but somehow hiding under your covers provided a magical layer of protection from anything sinister. You will believe that there are invisible forces at work. While evil lurks in the shadows, there is a benevolent force, like Lettie, that will cover you like that warm blanket from childhood. And quite possibly you will wonder if there really is an ocean at the end of the lane.

Memorable quotes:

“It’s hard enough being alive, trying to survive in the world and find your place in it, to do the things you need to do to get by, without wondering if the thing you just did, whatever it was, was worth someone having…if not died, then having given up her life.”

“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.”

4 of 5 stars

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