A new Neil Gaiman novel is always something to look forward to, and I pre-ordered my copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane as soon as I was able, knowing that whatever the tale being told, it would be something special.
The book starts with our narrator in the present day, having come back to his hometown for some unspecified family event, and finds himself turning up at an old farmhouse at the end of the lane where hi house was. We then flashback some forty years to when he was a little boy, a very unhappy child living with his parents and his sister, not at all at ease with the world around him. The family’s lodger steals their car and commits suicide in it, troubled by money and having betrayed his friends. And it’s this event that puts our narrator in real danger, because it unleashes on the world some rather nasty things from beyond our world, and the only people who understand what it means and can help to put it right are a young girl, Lettie Hempstock, her mother and grandmother who all live in the farm with the duckpond that might be something significantly more than it appears.
I thought this was a lovely story, capturing magic and legend and myth, the unpleasantness of adults and the horror of things beyond our ken. There are some astonishingly grotesque characters, particularly the sinister nanny Ursula Monckton who is definitely something else. And at the centre is a little boy who makes a friend and has to find the courage to fight for what he cares about. It’s a difficult book to write about in some ways because it’s the atmosphere that’s so important. The best thing perhaps to repeat the quote by Neil Gaiman on the back cover of my edition:
[it] is a novel of childhood and memory. It is a story of magic, about the power of stories and how we face the darkness inside each of us. It’s about fear, and love, and death, and families. But, fundamentally, I hope, at its heart, it’s a novel about survival
I think that really does sum up the themes that he explores, and I was totally bowled over. Gaiman has such a strong, loyal following that there is always a danger that you review the man and his body of work rather than the individual story at hand. And there is a tendency for his stuff to build up such anticipation that there is a danger of being disappointed (like my friend Silvery Dude who thought it was but not up there with his favourite Neverwhere)
I’m not sure its my favourite of Gaiman’s books (for me that’s a tie between American Gods and The Graveyard Book) but it is remarkable and one that I plan to re-read in the future. A sweet tale with something very dark at the centre.