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.
I’ve always been a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work, since the very first time I came across him. However, the comics, short stories, children books and blog posts were all I had read until recently. Last year I finally built up the courage to tackle Good Omens. I steer away from high fantasy, especially when its adult fiction. So I didn’t think I’d like it. I had Good Omens on my shelf for years before I finally read it and kicked myself for not reading it sooner. So when I noticed that I still had The Ocean at the End of the Lane on my shelf, I knew I needed to read it soon.
I am again gutted for not picking up this book sooner. It’s the perfect blend of mystery and thriller. It is ideal for escaping into, especially during a lockdown. I loved every page.
The whole book, pretty much, is a memory and it plays on the fact that memories are remembered differently by everyone. The events of the weeks 40 years previous, are remembered by a middle aged man. They are strange and unusual memories, not remembered until he reaches the destination of where many of them were made.
I found the whole story fascinating to read, from the memories to the relationships within he story. The Hempstocks were the most interesting characters. The way the narrator sees them is magical and you get the understanding that there is definitely something about them for the minute you first meet them.
The adventure the narrator and Lettie go on is incredible and dangerous. It had me hooked from the minute the sky started changing colour and I needed to know the outcome as soon as it began. Ursula, a fantastic name for a villain, was the most skin-crawling character since Umbridge and I hated her just as much.
The book is a quick read at only 270 pages. Its told all in first person by a narrator you never learn the name of I don’t think. It mostly takes place in the past, with the narrator remembering things but the prologue and epilogue have present moments within them that tell you a lot about the narrator and the memory. I found it fascinating that so much was said in those few pages that impacted the way I read the rest of the book.
This book spoke volumes about the magic of childhood, the amazing thing that is memory and it just spoke sense. There is a fantastic passage about adults and fear, but the narrator just doesn’t see it because he has the eyes of a 7 year old boy at the time. And its so true. As a child you think adults are fearless. Neil Gaiman puts it so eloquently and so brilliantly that I have just butchered it, but its worth reading the entire book just for that passage.
I will be passing this book to everyone I know (after lockdown of course) and I will urge everyone to read it. Its just so magical and so brilliant that I feel you are missing you don’t read it.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane was published in April 2014 by Headline. My copy was personally purchased at the time of publishing.