A word to the wise: Don’t stay up late reading a Neil Gaiman book and expect to get any sleep. I’m dragging today after finishing The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but it was worth it.
If you’re at all familiar with Gaiman’s work, you probably already know that this book, like so many of his others, is creepy, magical, strange, and thought-provoking. It’s written for an adult audience, but there’s something childlike about it as well. It explores the fears of a young boy and how he views the terrifying world around him. Did everything happen just as he remembers? We don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. In my opinion, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, while delving into one man’s memories of his childhood, also explores the themes of hope, facing one’s fears, accepting help, and believing in magic.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane begins with a man returning to his hometown for a funeral. In an effort to escape all of the condolences being offered, he decides to explore the area once so familiar to him. He goes past where his childhood home once stood and makes his way to the lane leading to the Hempstock farm. It is here that he begins to remember the events that took place when he was just seven years old.
When he was seven, he met Lettie Hempstock, a girl who seemed larger than life and who believed that the pond at the end of the lane was an ocean. Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother were all wise, magical, mysterious, and somehow timeless. They knew things that no normal person possibly could. The boy didn’t know quite what to make of these ladies, but he intrinsically trusted them.
Following the death of an opal miner, a strange darkness entered the world. The boy looked to Lettie Hempstock to beat the darkness back, but it somehow found a way into his life–into his very body.
The seemingly impossible events that followed shook the boy to his core and terrified him completely. The darkness that plagued him took human form and threatened every aspect of the boy’s life, even the sense of safety he should have felt in his own home, with his own family. How could he possibly fight something that scared him so deeply? Where could he look to for help?
Only the Hempstock family had the power and knowledge to help the boy. But how? What could these women possibly do to rid his world of this ancient evil? What would have to be sacrificed to save his life? And would that sacrifice ultimately be worth it?
I’m still pondering some of the mysteries in this book. Gaiman, a master storyteller, doesn’t give readers all of the answers. Some things are left to our imaginations (which is awesome).
A few unanswered questions:
- What is the main character’s name? We never know his name or the names of his family members. Only the Hempstock ladies and a couple of other memorable characters are named outright.
- Who died and precipitated the main character’s visit home? We know it’s not his sister, as it’s mentioned that she’s waiting on her brother. Is it his mom? His dad? Who led him home?
- What’s the deal with the Hempstocks? Are they three incarnations of the same person? Perhaps some version of the Triple Goddess–the Crone, the Mother, and the Maiden? I honestly don’t know, but this seems the most plausible explanation given the events of the book and what we learn about this family.
- Why does it take revisiting the “ocean” to jump-start the main character’s memories? One would think something so traumatic would have been impossible to forget. Also, what exactly is this ocean? Where did it come from, and what’s the source of its power?
- Did the events he remembered really happen? Were they the imaginings of a child to cope with something he couldn’t understand? Or is it the adult who forgets in order to cope with something that should have been impossible? How does the man as an adult explain what happened?
Maybe you’ve figured out the answers to all of these questions. Maybe not. As for me, I’ll be thinking about these things–and a few more–for a while.
Like I mentioned before, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is written for an adult audience, but some teens may enjoy it (particularly if they’re already Neil Gaiman fans). It’s deep, intense, and it does play with your mind a bit, but give it a whirl if that’s your kind of thing.
For more information on this book and others by Neil Gaiman, check out the author’s website.