The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

15783514Fiction — print. William Marrow, 2013. 181 pgs. Library copy.

Returning to Sussex, England, as a middle-aged man, George stops at the farm at the end of the lane from the house he once lived in and is pulled back into the life he lived at the age of seven when he met Lettie Hempstock and was introduced to the ocean — not to be confused with a pond — in Lettie’s backyard. In that year, the opal miner living with George’s family ran over George’s beloved kitten and then committed suicide in the family car on the edge of the Hempstock farm.

George is stashed away with the Hempstock women — Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother — during the investigation and is quickly dragged into the darkness, the incomprehensible yet magical world of the Hempstock women. Fear gets the best of him, though, and he ends up letting go of Lettie’s hand allowing a piece of the world the Hempstock women keep from mixing with George’s world to travel back inside him as a worm. A worm that becomes Ursula, the babysitter intent on locking him away in the attic so no one can make her return to the other world; a worm that forces him to believe that Lettie — magical, comforting, wise beyond her years — will hold her promise to protect him, no matter what.

One of the best things about joining a book club is being forced to step outside of your comfort zone when it comes to books; another is the opportunity to discuss said books. Gaiman’s short novel hits both of these marks, and I’m looking forward to discussing the events of this novel with my new book club later in the week because I have so many unanswered questions. On the surface, the book appears to explore the fantastical imagination of a young child trying to cope with the upheaval in his life — the change in his economic status, the introduction of a babysitter as his mother heads into the workforce — but, on a deeper level, maybe it is an exploration of how children are able to see things adults cannot see, how children confront their fears every day while adults carve their lives around their fears?

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. No one, in the whole wide world.” (pg. 112)

Or, maybe the purpose of the story is to get the readers, who are probably adults, to remember what it is like to imagine an whole other world. To me, reading does exactly that but I also know that when it comes to science fiction and fantasy novels, I often rely upon the author to create the world for me, to establish the rules and the sights and the sounds. Yet, Gaiman doesn’t really do that. The fantasy world and the “real” world blend together; you’re never really in one or the other. And like a child’s imagination, the reader must pick up the fantasy world in the short walk between the farm house and the “ocean” and willing to adjust to the changes the come with an ever running imagination. It makes for a very interesting read. Perfect for a book club so, hopefully, we’ll have a great discussion because this book certainly deserves one.

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