Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

by Neil Gaiman
178 pgs

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the first novel Neil Gaiman has written for adults in quite a while, and even though the book is relatively short, it was well worth the wait. It's essentially a fairy tale for adults, and as any good fairy tale should, it contains elements of magic and fantasy, along with things that are most comfortable in the dark.

The narrator is a man, whose name I don't believe is ever revealed in the story, who has come back to Sussex, England where he grew up, to attend a funeral for someone close to him. After the service, as people are mulling around comforting each other, he's pulled enigmatically back to the property near where the house he grew up once stood. On that property is a small duck pond he's drawn to and as he's there, memories of his childhood and events that took place involving that pond begin to come back to him.

The pond is on the property owned by the Hempstocks, three generations of women who live there still and who he now remembers saved his life when he was a young boy. When he was seven he met Lettie Hempstock who told him she was eleven, but would not answer his question of how many years she had been eleven. He was somehow able to tell at the time that she had been eleven for longer than he had been alive.

On the night a lodger staying at the narrator's home commits suicide in their family car, Lettie takes the young narrator somewhere no normal human should ever be allowed to go. When they return, they're both unaware that a dark and dangerous power has hitched a ride with the boy. That power takes the shape of Ursula Monkton, who bewitches the rest of the boy's family but who terrorizes him. His only hope is the Hempstock women and the unworldly powers they possess.

It's a great story told by a fantastic writer. Gaiman possesses two qualities that make him one of the best at what he does: a tremendous imagination and the ability to tell a story in such a way as to communicate far more than what he puts down in words. Every time I've read something written by him, whether it's a graphic novel, children's picture book, short story or full length novel, I feel like I've just been told the most fascinating story I've ever heard.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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