Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow, Pub. date Jun. 18, 2013
Neil Gaiman is an author that I’ve been reading for years and one where I tend to love everything he has written. My love of his books is tied up with a number of things in my life so I’m going to take a moment and discuss a little about that before I actually get to the review.
I actually come upon Gaiman’s work because of Terry Pratchett. My father loved Terry Pratchett and the fantasy genre in general. When I was a kid, my mom would bring home books for my dad and we had a system where I would start at the bottom of the pile and he would start at the top and we’d work our way through. As a result, I ended up reading things way above my grade level for a long time but it always meant that many of the warm and fuzzy feelings I have about reading are tied directly to those books. So enter Terry Pratchett and the fabulous Discworld series. I don’t remember the first time I read a Discworld novel but I know that I’ve loved every single one of them. So of course, when I stumbled across Good Omens there was no way I wasn’t going to read it. At some point during college a friend introduced me to the Sandman series but I didn’t really make the connection to the co-author of Good Omens. Fast-forward a few more years to a blind date just before a trip to London. The guy, very nice with a name I can’t for the life of me remember, shows up to our date with a copy of Neverwhere. I read that and then picked up a book of his short stories while I was in London and it was all downhill from there.
Part of what I love so much about Gaiman’s books is the mix of magic and realism. Even at the most fantastical, there is always an element of the real world in his books. It gives me eternal hope that no matter how dark reality may get there is always the potential for a little bit of magic somewhere. This is something that comes up prominently in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The narrator has returned to his childhood home after attending a funeral. He wanders down the road to the Hempstock farm and begins to remember the summer 40 years ago when he met Lettie Hempstock. The Hempstock’s are old, old magic and the darkness that Lettie and the narrator inadvertently bring back is also an old evil. This primal evil, known in the novel as Ursula, creates numerous problems in the narrator’s house between his parents and between him and his parents. But these problems, while new and odd to the narrator, are not terribly unusual to many readers. This idea that unhappiness and dysfunction are things which have been around forever and will be around forever is a sobering thought. But the Hempstock women are a sound counterpoint of hope, as is the adorable kitten that pops up throughout the novel. It is often the small things or the individuals that we meet throughout our lives that can make the biggest difference. Lettie, her mother, and grandmother are magic, but they are also kind and strong and a force to be reckoned with anyways. They are the family we choose, the hope that we find when we connect with others. And because of that they are beautiful and wonderful in the way that the universe is.
I am an unabashed fan of Gaiman and Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of the best books that I’ve read recently. It is beautiful and sweet and sad and one that I will easily re-read every year.