The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Tuesday 10 June 2014 by

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman, Headline, BookThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Published by Headline

This is what he remembers, as he sits by the ocean at the end of the lane:

A dead man on the back seat of the car, and warm milk at the farmhouse;
An ancient little girl, and an old woman who saw the moon being made;
A beautiful housekeeper with a monstrous smile;
And dark forces woken that were best left undisturbed.

They are memories hard to believe, waiting at the edge of things. The recollections of a man who thought he was lost but is now, perhaps, remembering a time when he was saved.

~*~

It’s almost impossible to describe Neil Gaiman’s writing to someone who has never read him. It has the clarity of a Hemingway, the imagery of a Tolkien and the horror of a Stephen King. And The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Gaiman’s latest foray in to the dark and supernatural, is no different.

Like Ketchup Clouds, I devoured this in a matter of hours rather than days. It’s a haunting story of childhood and the imagination, magic and fear. Our unnamed hero is seven years old (for the most part), who finds himself wrapped up in the world of the Hempstocks, which is a strange blend of the benign and the terrifying.

I daren’t say too much about the story, because part of the joys of reading any Neil Gaiman is unravelling the plot as you go. Suffice to say, this is another beauty. Only Stephen King has ever unnerved me more than Neil Gaiman; the imagery in The Ocean at the End of the Lane will stay with you for a long while yet, and not all of it is fun.

The voice of the seven-year-old boy is startling – for an adult to be able to write with such juvenile perception, and for a child to have such a sharp acuity, is a rare thing. Our hero is more than just a friend you find in the pages, he is the younger self, the innocent, the witness, and the small shard of bravery we all hope to have inside ourselves somewhere.

Gaiman has openly admitted that some of the story (the opal miner and the setting itself) were taken from his childhood, and you can feel a certain nostalgic fondness as he describes the house and the farm and the surrounding area. It reminds me of childhood summers, when I would listen to storms with the window open, hide in a tree to read (or escape from my sister), and devise wild plans for dens and adventures, with secret escape routes no adult could know. Ocean is a hugely familiar childhood, with drastically differing circumstances. Like Stardust and Coraline, Gaiman takes the familiar and puts a supernatural twist on it, drawing you in with the sense of normality and comfort, and holding you there with adventure and the thrill of fear that we all secretly enjoy.

I can’t say enough how much I recommend this book. It is pure joy to read – preferably from cover to cover, without taking a breath. Even better? If you want the audiobook, you can have the author himself narrate it to you (I had the audiobook of his short stories collection, also narrated by him, and it was one of my favourite things).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is pure class – from character to plot to setting, it will charm you from beginning to end and beyond.

You can follow Fran on Twitter: @CatwomanFran

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