The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I remember my own childhood so vividly…I knew terrible things. But I knew I musn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.

Maurice Sendak, in conversation with Art Spiegelman, 1993

There tends to be a certain mystique around children with active imaginations.Whether they’re running through forests filled with monsters or pretending a cardboard box is a spaceship, childhood imaginations are the bridges between reality and fantasy. The quote above, taken from the prologue of Neil Gaiman’s new novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane, explains partly the theme of the book: what if the adults in our lives knew about the horrible things we witnessed as children? What if they knew that we knew where the wild things truly were? In his new novel, Gaiman creates a mystical, myth filled land where nothing is as it seems and everything is potentially dangerous. Ocean is narrated by a seven year old boy, who witnesses the suicide of a man at the end of the lane in which he lives; the trauma from the event sends him spiraling into a mythical adventure.

The prologue begins with the unnamed narrator, now a 30 something year old man, attending a funeral in his hometown. Shortly after the funeral concludes, he decides to take a trip to the end of the lane he used to live on, to visit the pond (which is also an ocean). The narrator vividly remembers his experiences with this magical body of water, as though it only happened yesterday. He recalls meeting a girl, Lettie Hempstock and her family of mysterious females living in the farmhouse at the end of the lane. Moving from his completely unattended seventh birthday party, the narrator begins an otherworldly journey with Lettie, whom we later find out has been 11 years old for an undetermined amount of time.

The air in which the story exists is consistently secretive and suspicious.  Immediately from the first encounter with unknown beings, Lettie and her family are portrayed as mysterious persons with great wealths of knowledge about the entities that are becoming bothersome to the narrator and his family. Lettie and her family seem to know a lot about things of occult nature, constantly speaking around the narrator in terms and phrases that he finds alien. Though the Hempstock family is initially foreign and confusing to the narrator, he later finds comfort in their protection from the malicious being known as Ursula.

Gaiman is known and loved for his writings on the topics of magic, myth, and fantasy. Ocean completely touches on all of those topics. Originally, this idea started out a short story that Gaiman was writing, but turned out so well rounded and filled out that it had to be made into a short book, in lieu of cutting top quality material. Ocean is a fun book to read, but at times it can drag on. Considering it started as a short story and evolved into a short novel, some details throughout the book might come off as unnecessary. Most of the action and plot movement happens in the first 100 pages, with the remaining 80 picking up only trivial details that could have been closed out in fewer pages.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a novel for all ages, despite being targeted mostly at young adults. Throughout the book, the reader will encounter a story about love, loss, death and frightening situations; all emotions that readers of many levels can relate to. Fans of Gaiman’s previous works like American Gods and Coraline will enjoy the level of mystic fantasy that he injects into the story, while new fans might just find themselves a new favorite author with his fresh, invigorating storytelling.

Rating: 8 out 10 – Gaiman is known for writing fantastical tales of mysterious fantasy and The Ocean at the End of the Lane is no different. It tells the coming of age story of the narrator, who travels emotionally when a traumatic event propels him into a journey back home and encounter with the Hempstock’s and the malicious Ursula.

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