Review: ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ by Neil Gaiman

“Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.” (5)

the ocean at the end of the lane_book coverWith each passing day, I wonder how much of my childhood I have forgotten. Many of the memories are tucked away somewhere in my brain, only to resurface when I flip through old photos or visit one of the many places I’ve lived. Leave it to Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” to make me wonder if there’s even more that I’m forgetting.

In “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” a middle-aged man returns to his childhood home for a funeral, and finds himself drawn to the farm at the end of the lane. He remembers that when he was seven, he met Lettie Hempstock and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of them in decades but as he sits by the pond behind the house, the past comes flooding back — a past that is strange, frightening and dangerous for anyone, let alone his seven-year-old self.

There’s something magical about Gaiman’s writing, whether it’s this short novel, “Stardust” or even “Doctor Who” episodes. I felt at home reading “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” as if I were back in grade school again and reading all of the books I could get my hands on. I connected with the seven-year-old boy:

Also, in my bedroom, nobody minded if I kept the hall door half-open, allowing in enough light that I was not scared of the dark, and, just as important, allowing me to read secretly, after my bedtime, using the dim hallway light to read by, if I needed to. I always needed to.” (13)

So many nights I, too, stayed up to read books, whether it was with a flashlight under my covers or stuffing my bathroom against the bottom of my bedroom door so I could turn my bedroom light on. It got easier once we moved into a house where my bedroom wasn’t next to my parents. Like the boy, books were my weapon, too, when I was younger. They still are. It’s great to see that portrayed, and it gives me a little comfort.

I’ve always enjoyed reading books where the protagonists are children or early teens. There’s an extra element of bravery and awe reading about children who go on adventures, save their families. “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” not only has a hero in the boy but also in Lettie Hempstock. Most of the books that feature child protagonists are, of course, young adult novels or geared toward grade school readers. Sometimes I feel strange reading books that are meant for children, as if I should’ve read those books when I was 10 years old and not 23 years old. But “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is a novel geared toward adults and features a child protagonist. It’s wonderful.

There is so much to love about this short novel. I wish I didn’t have to return it to my friend. Adding this one to the list of books that I must buy when I (1) have more money and (2) have an entire room dedicated to all of my books.

 

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