Whenever a new Neil Gaiman book is released, it’s often something special. Gaiman has the ability to take us to strange places and unseen realms, often just by showing us a different way to look around the corners of the mundane world. With his latest release, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, he sends us on a journey of recollection primed to pull us into a magical land of the past.
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane opens with a middle-aged unnamed narrator returning home to England to attend a funeral. During his stay, he decides to revisit some old neighbors and ventures at a pond that one of his childhood friends insisted was an ocean. This starts the recollection that makes up the core of the story.
Our narrator, who is always unnamed, possesses so profound a version of Gaiman’s natural manner of speaking, I can’t help thinking of this book as an autobiography. As the “Gaiman” family struggles through hard times, “Neil” is forced to move into his sister’s room so his old room can be rented to lodgers. “Neil,” a fan of Batman comics, awaits the latest issue, only to discover that the family car is gone. A recent lodger stole the car and committed suicide. When the “Gaiman” family goes to retrieve their vehicle, “Neil” meets Lettie Hempstock.
Lettie is a little older than “Neil” but doesn’t act like it; in fact, she acts like a perpetual child. All the Hempstocks appear to possess some hidden knowledge about the world, though Lettie reveals a little natural magic as she leads “Neil” on a brief adventure. Even though they seal the ancient power that starts influencing events after the death of the lodger, events become more and more strange for “Neil.” Leading up to the fifty page mark, “Neil” finds a worm in his foot in a sequence that seems more like Cronenberg than Gaiman.
While The Ocean At The End Of The Lane doesn’t have any of the vastness of Neverwhere or the quirky adventurousness of Stardust, it does have a quick pace to it. Each chapter has it’s own part of the overall tale, though they aren’t as singular as the chapters in The Graveyard Book. Regardless, it looks like this is another fine read from a man I often call the greatest writer alive.
Note: Since the narrator is totally unnamed, I have given him the label “Neil” since he possesses so much of the author’s voice. I’ve listed his family as the “Gaiman” family for the same reason. In the actual book, neither name is given.