WILLIAM MORROW/HarperCollins – @WmMorrowBks and @HarperCollins
AUTHOR: Neil Gaiman – @neilhimself
ISBN: 978-0-06-225565-5; hardcover (June 18, 2013)
192pp, B&W, $25.99 U.S.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a 2013 fantasy novel from author Neil Gaiman (American Gods, The Graveyard Book). This short novel is Gaiman’s first novel for adults since the award-winning Anansi Boys (2005).
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is set in modern day Sussex, England and focuses on an unnamed male protagonist who is approximately 47-years-old. He has returned to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in as boy is gone, he is drawn to edifice that is still there – the Old Hempstock farm at the end of the lane.
There, forty years earlier, at the age of seven, he met a remarkable, 11-year-old girl named Lettie Hempstock. Lettie lived with her mother, “Ginnie” or Mrs. Hempstock, and her mother, Old Mrs. Hempstock. The protagonist had not thought of the Hempstock farm and its residents in decades. Sitting before the pond at the back of the farm, a pond Lettie said was an ocean, memories come flooding back to him. Now, he remembers a past that was strange, wonderful, and dangerous. He also remembers the darkness unleashed that resulted in something terrible happening to him.
I have taken to calling The Ocean at the End of the Lane Neil Gaiman’s Alice Walker novel. As I read this book, I often thought of Alice Walker’s 1982 novel, The Color Purple (which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). In different ways, Celie of The Color Purple and the boy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane both experience (and share with us) the uncomplicated and triumphant joys of childhood, even when faced with a world that seems determined to deliver terror in a fickle manner or with a capricious nature. There is heroism in these young characters’ nature because they survive and they love – even when it would be easier for a childhood to be simplistic and selfish.
I often see Gaiman being described as the “Prince of Stories,” which is so fan-ish and fawning. If anything, Gaiman is a prince of imagination because of the imaginative ways in which he grapples with the real world and with genuinely human themes by setting them in fantastic places, points that exist on the periphery of our world or just out of reach in the corner of our vision. This novel’s central theme – of a disconnect between the worlds of adulthood and childhood – resonate because what Gaiman has to say makes sense even when he tells it in his own unique and unusual way.
And heck, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is just a damn good read.