The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Good and evil
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carterasm1 thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over
pagetraveler thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 12 and 99
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A man returns to his childhood home for a funeral, and suddenly finds himself remembering the strange events of his childhood -- when he was seven, and met Lettie Hempstock. That year, an unfortunate man killed himself on Lettie's property, and unwittingly released something ancient and malevolent upon the village. When the eldritch entity threatens our narrator's family, Lettie promises to keep him safe. But at what cost?
Neil Gaiman’s *The Ocean at the End of the Lane* is a fairy tale for adults in the best possible sense. It’s incredibly lightweight – at only 178 pages, Gaiman has stripped down his prose and left a spare, stunning myth that can be read in one stop on the beach blanket. Indeed, you may find you need the sunbeams – if this dark, bewitching tale doesn’t send a shiver down your spine, you likely have no pulse.
The book opens with an unnamed man returning to his childhood home after the death of a family member. In his grief, he’s drawn to the farm of a childhood friend named Lettie Hempstock. He winds up seated next to a pond they called the ocean, lost in childhood memories.
He had been a shy, quiet child who loved to read and had few friends. Soon after he turned seven, a boarder living in the narrator’s home took his own life. After discovering the body, the narrator is comforted by the Hempstocks, a family of remarkable women who live at the end of his lane.
Gaiman has created something special with the Hempstocks. Though they’re plainly supernatural, Gaiman makes no effort to explain what they are beyond imbuing them with spiritual elements from the Maiden/Mother/Crone trinity found in neopagan mythology. This lack of explanation makes them all the more powerful – as Gaiman well knows, a story’s real power lies in the unknown.
The narrator begins to bond with 11-year-old Lettie Hempstock. She keeps his company as a series of strange events unfold, all seemingly related to the suicide of the opal miner who boarded with the narrator’s family. Lettie takes the narrator on an errand to banish the being causing the trouble. This errand alone contains all the creepy beauty and wild atmosphere Gaiman’s known for, but it’s just the beginning. The being follows the unnamed young protagonist back home and manifests itself as an evil nanny named Ursula Monkton. She dedicates herself to trapping and enslaving the young boy.
Gaiman lets the story of an evil nanny tormenting the painfully young abandoned narrator unfold as simply as any children’s tale. This makes the powerful, luminous spirituality of the tale’s final showdown all the more profound. The only words to capture the dark beauty and wonder of the final pages of *The Ocean at the End of the Lane* are the ones Gaiman has already used, so you’ll just have to read it yourself. You won’t regret it – this is hands-down the most moving book I’ve read this year. Like any fairy tale, it’s a fiction for the ages, meant for telling the truth.
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I liked myths. They weren't adult stories and they weren't children's stories. They were better than that. They just were.
I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.
Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.
Nobody actually looks like what they really are on the inside. You don't. I don't. People are much more complicated than that. It's true of everybody.
Oh, monsters are scared. That's why they're monsters.
I'm going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.
I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I found joy in the things that made me happy.
I was a normal child. Which is to say, I was selfish and I was not entirely convinced of the existence of things that were not me, and I was certain, rock-solid unshakably certain, that I was the most important thing in creation. There was nothing that was more important to me than I was.