Rating: 4/5 stars
It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond this world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.
His only defence is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.
It did not matter, at that moment, that she was every monster, every witch, every nightmare made flesh. She was also an adult, and when adults fight children, adults always win.
Electric, magic, and utterly spellbinding, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane takes fantasy to a whole new level. This novel crafts a fantastical take on 1970s Sussex, England in a style I’ve never seen nor heard of before. I’ve never read stand-alone fantasy novel before, nor have I read a Neil Gaiman novel before, but I feel this was a great place to start.
The novel begins in the prologue (obviously), where in our nameless protagonist is an adult, and is visiting Hempstock Farm – a place he recalls from his childhood – in order to escape a funeral; who’s funeral, we are not told. The epilogue is told from this perspective also. The man, whom I’m assuming is about 47, knows only that his pull to Hempstock Farm is generally caused by his pull to Lettie Hempstock. However, the magic binding the farm, makes it so that when he’s on the farm, he can remember the truth, yet when he’s away, all is forgotten. The rest of the book is written from the same man’s perspective, yet when he was 7 years old. It is here that his true story with Lettie Hempstock is recalled, and the magic begins.
Personally, I believe the ambiguity adds to the magical feel the story already possesses. It makes it so that you’re looking through the mind of a 47-year-old, trying to remember things that happened 40 years prior. Thus, the ambiguity makes it more realistic, and – in being rough around the edges – more interesting, too. This story keeps you guessing, and some of the vague aspects allow you to create your own interpretation of what is happening, and why. Also, the fact that the protagonist is nameless, as are his sister and parents, make it feel much more personal, as if you’re the one reminiscing, and not a random 47-year-old man we know little about.
Furthermore, there is a lot of symbolism in this book, generally relating to the disconnection between adults and children, but also to inner-darkness, I would say. It’s nice, because the whole novel is coming from a 47-year-old’s memory, and so there’s the direct juxtaposition of an adult and a child, and how both progress through the novel. Likewise, there’s also the contrast of childhood naivety and universe-old wisdom, teaching both lessons to the protagonist, and to the reader.
On another note, I adore the cover of this book! The sparkles and the misty blue give it a magical aura, as does the light coming from above. Covers like this make me sad I’m a kindle user, because this is definitely a book I would display.
Generally, this novel takes you on a quick journey to a fantasy land, before dropping you suddenly back into reality. It’s almost as if you’ve been given access to a little snippet of someone’s mind, which I really enjoyed. Despite this being an adult-targeted novel, I do believe it will appeal to people from multiple age groups. For example, I can imagine I child being read this as a bed-time story just as well as I can imagine an elderly man reading this on the train. Hence, I gave this book 4/5 stars, and would definitely recommend to everyone, even those not so keen on fantasy.