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The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman

An unnamed, middle-aged artist returns to his hometown for a funeral. While there, he revisits some of the places he knew as a child, including the farm at the end of the lane, where his friend Lettie lived. As he walks by a pond behind the house, he dives into his memories from when he was only a seven-year-old child, when an opal miner committed suicide in his family’s car and released an ancient, evil force. As the supernatural and “actual” worlds collide, Lettie and her family are the only ones who can seal the mystic being back where she came.

In this short book – less than 200 pages – Neil Gaiman has crafted another of his modern, adult fairy tales. At first glance, it echoes the plot of many of his other novels: a fairly ordinary male protagonist is suddenly thrust into a supernatural ‘other’ world and must struggle to regain equilibrium between the two worlds. The villain has shades of the Other Mother from Coraline; Old Mrs. Hempstock would be bosom buddies with Anansi Boys’ Mrs. Dunwitty and her gang. But I think one of the reasons The Ocean at the End of the Lane works so well is that it takes so many recognizable Gaiman tropes and distills them down to the essentials, crafting a very tight, fast-paced story.

There’s a brooding melancholy that suffuses the novel. That’s not to say that it’s a mopey or depressing story. On the contrary, there are some very funny scenes and the Hempstock Farm – Lettie’s home – is a comforting, warm, cozy hobbit-hole sort of home. It’s the Platonic ideal of a farmhouse. But there’s such a rich nostalgia for youth and the innocence that disappears on the passage to adulthood, for that mid-century childhood lost to the past, that there’s always a bit of sadness clinging to the edge of the tale. But this atmosphere is beautiful, and I’d read the book for that alone.

This is a dark novel where horrible things happen and terrible sacrifices must be made. In the end, both the protagonist and reader are left wondering, “Was it worth it?” It’s a question that a child would never consider. But as we get older, I think we all sometimes think about whether all the expense and care and bother of raising a child paid off in the adult produced.

If you only read one book this summer, make sure this is one of them! It’s a wonderful modern fairy tale.

5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Ocean at the End of the Lane, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Mummies in Nineteenth Century America by S. J. Wolfe and Robert Singerman
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while…
2010: Maid, Matron, Crone edited by Kerri Hughes and Martin H. Greenberg
2009: A Lion Among Men (Wicked #3) by Gregory Maguire


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