Neil Gaiman’s whimsical style of writing has always intrigued me, since I was introduced to his work during my first year of uni. I’ve only read a few of his short stories and Coraline before but I am wanting to get stuck into his other novels. His latest was released this week and I have to say that it is a truly heart-rending and incredibly touching book.
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane sees an unnamed male narrator returning to his childhood haunt of a small farm with a pond situated at the end of its lane. He has just come back from a funeral and begins to reflect on his time as a seven-year-old, when the suicide of the family’s lodger caused him to meet and become friends with Lettie Hempstock who lives at the farm with her supposed mother and grandmother. The three generations of women possess powers that our narrator can only imagine and wisdom far beyond their apparent years. Through bonding with Lettie, he gains access into their weird and wonderful world, which brings with it heartbreak and great fear.
When Lettie accidentally opens a door into the supernatural, she lets in an evil being which at first is carried through via a worm in the narrator’s foot and then transforms into a woman who becomes the narrator’s nanny Ursula Monkton. It is only the narrator through his innocence that sees Ursula for what she really is and it is down to Lettie to lure the creature back to its own world and close the door again.
Most definitely an adult book told largely from a child’s point of view, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane (so called because of Lettie’s pond which is actually a magical ocean) is a great escape from the drudgery of everyday life. Much like the narrator himself, who finds solace and comfort in books, it allows you to do the same. The mystery over the Hempstocks’ history is a constant motor to keep reading and by the end, you’re still not totally clear on their nature. Their calm demeanour about death and acceptance of time passing is so intriguing and they are very well-written characters who I would love to have a backstory to. Prequel please, Mr Gaiman?
Having always loved fantasy novels with a childish spin on them, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane certainly appealed to my tastes. From the very beginning the narrator talked about being consumed by books and in love with his kitten, which actually pretty much summed me up! Straightaway, I felt connected to the protagonist and therefore I cared when he got into trouble and I felt the emotions with him. Writers that have the ability to do this impress me no end and as a result, I could see so much realism embedded in the fantastical storyline. One of the hardest things about creating believable fantasy is somehow relating it to real life but The Ocean At The End Of The Lane has it nailed.
The ending was a strange one. On the one hand, I took all of my natural human instincts with me and felt devastated by the final events as did the narrator but the Hempstocks’ reaction to it made me step back a little and let go of my grief. They accepted death as something inevitable, which doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t see your loved one again. By that point, I knew them as wise women who knew everything and it made me realise that actually it isn’t so bad. People die but they’re always with you in one form or another and who’s to say you won’t meet again?
It is an enchanting, mystical, harrowing and altogether rollercoaster book that proves why Gaiman is such a master at creating poetic worlds that suck you in. It’s so strange and beautiful with some of the best imagery ever. A definite must read for lyrical fantasy lovers!