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.
I’m not even sure where to start with this one. This is a book full of magic, love, and excessive creepiness that also made me cry. At one point near the end, I was practically sobbing.
Clearly, it’s a book by Neil Gaiman.
As usual, he blew me away. It’s a short book, but it still manages to pack an emotional wallop while absolutely dazzling the imagination. It also completely messes with your mind–I didn’t even realize until the very end (when Joe Hill told me in the extras, darn it. On my own, I may never have noticed–that’s how immersed in the story I was) that we never even learned the narrator’s name. I did realize that we never find out who the funeral was for–in the back of my mind when it was mentioned, I wondered (vaguely, very vaguely) who had died, but then got sucked right back in to the narrative and just didn’t care anymore.
Except for the fact that the narrator is 1) a boy 2) lives in England and 3) survived some pretty wild and intense stuff when he was seven (although maybe I did too, and have also blocked it out, as he does for 99% of his adulthood? Only if it really is anything like his experience, I’d really rather it stay forgotten. Permanently.) the main character could have been me. Seriously, when he says things like:
“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”
–that’s me. And so is
“I lay on the bed and lost myself in the stories. I liked that. Books were safer than other people anyway.”
“I went away in my head, into a book. That was where I went whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible.”
Yep. Me again.
I loved that he used the things he found in books to try and save himself and his family. Because, as he points out at one point, words can save lives, sometimes. And I completely agreed with him on his views of myths:
“I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children stories. They were better than than that. They just were.”
(Obviously this idea comes straight from Neil, because his next book is going to be based on Norse mythology. Count me in!)
Gah! Such a good book. A must-read for just about everyone, but especially anyone who’s old enough to not quite remember their childhood with perfect clarity. Really. Just read it–you won’t be sorry.
However, once again Mr. Gaiman has left me feeling that it’s a darn good thing he wasn’t in charge of telling me stories before bed when I was growing up…or now, for that matter. Otherwise I might never have gotten to sleep…
Rating: 4 1/2 stars / A
I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.