*May Contain Spoilers*
Neil Gaiman takes readers into the memory of a man who experienced magical trauma in his childhood with his novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. A man returns to his childhood town, while dealing with a new trauma, to reminisce about something he cannot remember.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is completely absorbent. Just as I prepared to write this review I realized I had no idea what the main character's name was. The mysticism and magic of this novel is so enveloping, I found myself drowning with the others, in an ocean the size of a pond.
The narrator has just returned to the town where he grew up for a funeral. On the way to his sister's house, he finds himself driving somewhere different: the Hempstock farm. Only there is he allowed to remember that something evil used him as a tunnel to our world and tried to destroy it. The novel is set in a sort of framework. The present day funeral is the outer frame, with memories swirling around inside. As the narrator relives the events (a man's suicide, the escape from the orange-skied place, and the varmints) the readers are taken on a journey to a place where it seems only children can visit.
The narrator is a likeable little boy with a fruitful imagination and a love of reading. His loneliness and trouble making friends will charm the readers, as they sympathetically connect with him. When he accidentally brings a force of evil into the world, readers will understand his guilt as well as his focus to help Lettie Hempstock fix it.
Lettie is a character of wonder, as are her mother, Ginnie, and grandmother, Old Mrs. Hempstock. They live at the end of the boy's lane and Lettie becomes the boy's only friend. The blossoming of a new friendship is heartwarming, but there's something different about Lettie that readers will notice. She's wise beyond her age and has more experience than eleven years could truly offer. Readers will enjoy Lettie's vivaciousness, creativity, bravery, and loyalty in the face of adversity.
The magic this book offers is astounding and warm and sharp and dangerous. My favorite part of the book is the framework. At the end, readers learn that this isn't the first time that the boy has returned to the pond to remember what happened. It seems he returns during times of turmoil, like this funeral, because the Hempstock farm has always meant safety for him.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story that wisps like smoke. As soon as you think you have a hold on it, it shifts with the wind. Reminiscent of both a fairy tale and a cautionary lesson, this fantasy novel will worm it's way into the hearts of readers.
Rating: 4.5/5 Cups