**Disclaimer: This is my first attempt at a book review, so go easy on me**
“I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were. Adult stories never made sense, and they were slow to start. They made me feel like there were secrets, Masonic, mythic secrets, to adulthood. Why didn’t adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?” – Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Let me start by saying that I am not sure I could tell you in words exactly why this marvelous story resonated with me as it did. I would probably find it immensely difficult to tell you why I felt so protective over this young, nameless boy. I guess that is part of the reason why I enjoyed this book so much. At times I felt like I was an adult trying to convince myself that this wasn’t a children’s book, and other times I had difficulty coming to terms with not quite understanding this complex adult tale. I guess Neil Gaiman sums this inner confusion up with the above quote from the book itself. I just hope that by the end of this review I would have explained myself enough to help us both understand.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane was my first encounter with a Neil Gaiman book. After reading the book I discovered that he is the literary genius behind such films like Stardust and Coroline, which made a lot of sense to me after having read the book. From what the internet tells me, Gaiman is a British author, married to American musician Amanda Palmer. After this review is done I plan on delving deeper into the world of Neil Gaiman and reading such books as ‘American Gods’ and ‘Good Omens’ with which he collaborated with Terry Pratchett.
The book begins with our main protagonist returning to his childhood home after a funeral. Here he revisits the home in which he grew up living with his sister and parents. Whilst visiting he suddenly remembers a young girl from his past, a Lettie Hempstock, who lived at the farms at the end of the lane, and who claimed that the duck pond behind her house was an ocean. Draw to the farm Lettie lived at with her mother and grandmother our protagonist feels compelled to knock on the door, on the off chance that one of the Hempstock women still reside there. As he is greeted by a member of the Hempstock family, he asks to see the pond. This invokes images and memories the likes of which he had not remembered since they occurred.
Transported back in time via the boy’s memories, we learn the story of his childhood, one of fear, a love of literature, and a disappointing seventh birthday party. To help with financial difficulties his parents take in a lodger, who triggers a tragic event which seems to tear the fabric of the ordinary world in which our protagonist lives and marks the beginning of a terrifying time.
The story takes us through a mad, dark world, in which the Hempstocks seem to be the only givers of light for our character, who it turns out are also not just simple matriarchal household they had seemed. I think what makes this story even scarier is the fact that the darkness begins taking over the boy’s family, and there is nothing more dangerous or saddening than a child who cannot even be safe in the bosom of his parents.
Without giving too much away the story concludes with a bang, one which tugs on your emotions and leaves you longing for an extra chapter to answer all the questions that have just been flung into the air.
All I know for sure is, the innocence of childhood is something that we hold dear to us and are willing to protect at any cost. I believe this is the reason I found myself so engrossed in this book. I had to know what would come of him. I had to know he was okay. I couldn’t stop reading until I knew that this boy wasn’t going to come to harm, and sometimes he did, others he didn’t, both situations resulting in an emotional rollercoaster hard to get in books that are as short as this. I felt for the boy, even knowing that he wasn’t even a boy anymore. I felt for Lettie, I felt for the kitten that only features in a couple of lines but makes your heart yearn and mourn.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a wonderful fantasy book, one which I would recommend to everyone, you will be sucked in, as if by the tide of the ocean, and I guarantee that you will not be able to put this book down.