The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman
@SPL: FIC Gaima
Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a fairy tale for adults in the best possible sense. It’s incredibly lightweight – at only 178 pages, Gaiman has stripped down his prose and left a spare, stunning myth that can be read in one stop on the beach blanket. Indeed, you may find you need the sunbeams – if this dark, bewitching tale doesn’t send a shiver down your spine, you likely have no pulse.
The book opens with an unnamed man returning to his childhood home after the death of a family member. In his grief, he’s drawn to the farm of a childhood friend named Lettie Hempstock. He winds up seated next to a pond they called the ocean, lost in childhood memories.
He had been a shy, quiet child who loved to read and had few friends. Soon after he turned seven, a boarder living in the narrator’s home took his own life. After discovering the body, the narrator is comforted by the Hempstocks, a family of remarkable women who live at the end of his lane.
Gaiman has created something special with the Hempstocks. Though they’re plainly supernatural, Gaiman makes no effort to explain what they are beyond imbuing them with spiritual elements from the Maiden/Mother/Crone trinity found in neopagan mythology. This lack of explanation makes them all the more powerful – as Gaiman well knows, a story’s real power lies in the unknown.
The narrator begins to bond with 11-year-old Lettie Hempstock. She keeps his company as a series of strange events unfold, all seemingly related to the suicide of the opal miner who boarded with the narrator’s family. Lettie takes the narrator on an errand to banish the being causing the trouble.
This errand alone contains all the creepy beauty and wild atmosphere Gaiman’s known for, but it’s just the beginning. The being follows the unnamed young protagonist back home and manifests itself as an evil nanny named Ursula Monkton. She dedicates herself to trapping and enslaving the young boy.
Gaiman lets the story of an evil nanny tormenting the painfully young abandoned narrator unfold as simply as any children’s tale. This makes the powerful, luminous spirituality of the tale’s final showdown all the more profound.
The only words to capture the dark beauty and wonder of the final pages of The Ocean at the End of the Lane are the ones Gaiman has already used, so you’ll just have to read it yourself. You won’t regret it – this is hands-down the most moving book I’ve read this year. Like any fairy tale, it’s a fiction for the ages, meant for telling the truth.
– Shauna Thomas, librarian