The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
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. (Blurb from Goodreads)
Rating: PG, 5 stars
Trigger warnings: death, nightmares, animal death
This book was amazing, and I hope I’m actually able to get my thoughts down in a coherent manner, because really my reaction is: dskdkdsfsldsfjkfdjfgjdsfjldskfddsfjksogood.
For starters, I loved the fact that we didn’t know the narrator’s name. This is a narrative technique that doesn’t always work, but here it did, partially because it just made me picture Neil Gaiman as the narrator, and he really worked as the narrator.
I loved the way the story unfolded, from the set up at the beginning, to the unfolding of past memories, to the surprising conclusion (a conclusion which I definitely will not be spoiling). The story’s structure left me surprised but not confused or left behind, which can be challenging to do.
I think the unnamed narrator is someone that many readers can relate to--he is an avid reader himself, and that influences so many of his decisions. Because most of the book takes place when he is a child, this characteristic felt realistic and not like a cop-out, which I think would have happened if the narrator, as an adult, was still referencing books all the time.
I loved Lettie and her family. I loved their toughness and their timelessness. I loved that we never really get clear answers about the Hempstocks and what they do, what they’re there for. I loved their farmhouse.
I even loved the shortness of the book (bear with me here). It’s not that I wanted the story to end, because I certainly didn’t, but there’s something romantic about short, powerful novels. And from my own experience, brevity is challenging. It’s easy to fill 400 pages, much harder to cut that down. Kudos to Gaiman for writing such a brilliant little book.
Ugh, this review feels so...lacking after my initial emotional reaction to The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Just read it. You won’t regret it.