After my free copy of Stardust, which came with a preview chapter of The Ocean, I had to pick up the full book and see what it was like. It’s very similar in feel to Stardust, which is certainly no bad thing, and happily bridges the gap between fantasy and reality, covering themes of the wonder of childhood, growing up, forgetting, and wrapping it all up nicely in a story of a man remembering his greatest childhood adventure.
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.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane was one of those strange Gaiman books that is almost impossible to quantify – is it a children’s or an adults’ book? Is it mysterious and ethereal, or is it wondrous and simultaneously terrifying? I think, really, with Gaiman, the answer is all of the above.
The unnamed narrator of The Ocean at the End of the Lane has many things to remember as he returns to his childhood home and recounts his incredible adventures, including ageless women, scavenger birds, the very personification of darkness and evil, as well as a quite frankly mean governess/nanny – it’s a combination of all the English childhood fantasy books I loved to read when I was younger and a new and exciting mystery. It’s not hard to see why it was a GoodReads choice book of 2013.
If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that it ended quite suddenly – turning the last page, I felt like I had been on a rollercoaster which just abruptly stopped, leaving me breathless and a little winded. Perhaps that was a stylistic choice, though, and as the narrator forgets again the adventures he shared with Lettie as a child, the reader moves on too, and the book doesn’t need to linger.
I haven’t read many Gaiman books, but considering that I quite enjoyed this and Stardust this year, perhaps that’s something I should change.