First Published: 2013
Year of Publication for This Edition: 2014
Number of Pages: 178
Publisher: William Morrow
Sub-Genres: Fantasy, magical realism
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This is one of those books that I bought and then stuck in my bedroom somewhere, never to be seen again until several months later when I finally decided to read it. I have no idea what took me so long. I mean, I had read Gaiman’s short stories before, so I knew him to be more than capable of creating mind-bending fantasy worlds, or a real-world story teeming with dread, or a very simple story that nevertheless breaks your heart. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when he did all three at once.
It’s difficult to summarize The Ocean at the End of the Lane without giving away too much, but I’ll try: a man goes back to his hometown in Sussex, England for a funeral (whose funeral we never learn, nor do we ever hear the man’s name). While he’s there, he visits his old neighborhood and begins to reminisce about the things that happened there the year he turned seven. He recalls Lettie Hempstock, a little girl who lived up the lane from him with her mother and grandmother and whose backyard, she claimed, had an ocean in it. Following a sudden death on the lane, this nameless little boy’s once-peaceful home is invaded by monsters that only Lettie and her family know how to tame.
To put it bluntly, this book is beautiful. Strange and unsettling too, as all the good fantasies are, but beautiful nonetheless. I think my friend got it right when he said that Gaiman has written neither a children’s story nor an adult’s story, but rather a myth: something that can be enjoyed on many different levels and by anyone.
There are, you might say, a lot of gaps in this book. A lot of unknowns. We know that there’s something different about Lettie and the rest of the Hempstock women, but we’re never really told what it is. We know that the creatures that Lettie calls to or chases away have to come from someplace, but we never find out where. Heck, we don’t even find out what most of these characters’ names are. On the one hand, this can be a little disorienting: most of us are used to stories where everything is wrapped up neatly by the end. On the other hand, though, I think the unknowns are part of what give this book its appeal. They keep you curious. They keep you grasping to learn more. You become, like the protagonist, the wonder-struck child trying to make sense of things that are new and strange. That’s what this book gives you: a taste of the wonder that so many of us, unfortunately, leave behind in childhood.
In my quest to conquer the “To-Be-Read” list, I don’t often reread books. For this one, though, I’ll have to make an exception. It’s a beautiful book, a wise book, and above all, a true book. It took me much too long to get here, but I’m glad I finally did.
How about you all? What did you think of The Ocean at the End of the Lane? Which of Gaiman’s books should I read next? Let me know in the comments.