The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Book Review
On the surface, the ocean is light and illuminates life just beneath. However, when you dive deeper, the beams of light begin to narrow and you are left amidst the shadows and the creatures that hunt in the uncertainty. The Ocean at the End of the Lane lies just between. You feel as though you are treading between the last rays of light above you, but wanting to know what lies beneath your toes.
The story begins in the light, an artist returns to his hometown for a funeral. He wanders to a farm where his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock lived with her mother, Ginnie, and her grandmother old Mrs. Hempstock. He vaguely remembers the duck pond towards the back of the property and as he approaches it he begins to remember much much more. He is overwhelmed with long forgotten memories of supernatural beings and truths that pre-date the moon hanging in our sky.
No spoilers…. I promise!
At seven years old, our narrator always had his nose in a book and occupied his time with poems, songs and his kitten who was his best and only friend. His books were a way to escape the social isolation he faced and kept him away from the problems of the adult world. His parents fell on hard times and strangers entered their home in the form of boarders. One boarder stood out in the crowd of strangers, the opal man. His first trip to their Sussex home resulted in the death of his kitten and his last ended with his suicide in their family car.
This is how he meets the eleven years old Lettie Hempstock. Her family has an uncanny way of knowing things before they happen and seem to know things from before their time. Old Mrs. Hempstock remembers all the way back to before the big bang. That is why he seeks their help when his family is plagued by an annoying flea. A flea? Don’t worry, its not what you think… it’s worse.
What I thought…
I really enjoyed this story, I enjoyed it so much that as soon as I read the last line I started the book over again. Yep, 2 readings in 2 days….skill! Ahem, I mean, it helps that I have the audiobook and Neil Gaiman reads to me as I push papers around my desk.
When I read Coraline, I came into it thinking it was a story for children and I had that mode in my head. There was aspects of that story that were fun and exciting for a child, but when an adult reads it they are kind of freaked out.
Ocean is a book meant for adults, so the darker aspects hit home in a different way. We have all been children. We have all been afraid of the dark or believed that there really were things that were magic. As adults we believe what we can see (or we are supposed to). The fact that the events touched both the adults in the story and the child made it especially frightening. You are lifted out of the story and begin to wonder, is it the imagination of a seven year old trying to cope with what his family is going through, or is this flea real? That uncertainty is what is so exciting about this book. The Hempstock women help keep the story from being too dark. Gaiman does an amazing job of using these women to balance the terror he has invoked with their warmth. Their farm becomes a symbol of refuge and comfort. The young narrator comes to them for help and in Letty he finds a protector.
Lettie protects our young narrator, but never explains why she does it. This point in the story begs the question: Was I worth it? I guess what I mean is that the narrator is an adult when we begin the story. He is not at the best place in his life and when these memories begin to rush to him it makes him evaluate if he was worth protecting. Let’s take it a step further. When we were children someone protected us. They did this because there was an expectation / hope of the persons we would become as adults. Have we met that expectation? Is that a bar that we should measure ourselves by? Or perhaps they had no motive and just wanted to make us feel safe.
This is why I read Neil Gaiman’s books. I get so much more from them than an amazing story. I hope you pick up this novel and that you enjoy it as much as I have.