The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman’s latest book, published in June of 2013 by William Morrow Books. It is a 291 page fantasy novel. I actually finished this book last year (2013), but was doing a pretty terrible job of keeping up with reviews since I was reading so many books, and also was traveling over the holidays. Anywho.

The plot of the story is framed by a man returning home to attend a funeral. On the way, he gets sidetracked by visiting his childhood home and the farm of the Hempstock family at the end of his lane. He is reminded of a childhood friend that he used to have, and from there the story takes place almost completely in his memory of the events of his childhood.

The young boy meets Lettie Hempstock down the lane thanks to an unfortunate sequence of events. His parents, being short on money, allow a boarder to use their child’s room–one night, the boarder is found at the end of the lane, in his parent’s car, dead.

After, Lettie brings the boy to her house and they become fast friends. However, Lettie is no ordinary child, and she gets the boy into very extraordinary predicaments. After some strange events happen around the town, Lettie takes him to deal with whatever it is that has been causing them. This unleashes something terrible in the boy’s life, and the rest of the novel is him trying to deal with/defeat it. That probably sounds really vague, but I don’t want to give away one of the biggest plot points.

The most interesting thing about the book, in my opinion, is the lore behind the Hempstock women who have lived on their farm for longer than anyone alive now probably knows. Unfortunately, Gaiman doesn’t delve into their history, and only lightly touches on it when the boy asks questions of Lettie’s mother and grandmother. It seemed like there was a planned history there, and it was a little disappointing not to get a full, or even partial, understanding of their family magic. I sympathized with the main character when he felt frustrated by their vagueness and allusions to deep knowledge that we never really learn about–besides the “ocean” at the end of their lane.

Because the story is told about the man when he was a boy, I expected it to have more of a child-like narrative, but that was not the case. The whole tone of the story is melancholy and seems a little too grown up. While it fits the ending of the book, it was a bit of a drag to read an entire book like that.

Overall, the main character really did not hold much of my interest, while the Hempstocks fascinated me. The story is interesting in a solemn sort of way, as the boy is a lonely child whose parents are never home–introspection and thoughts of a character I can relate to, even if I don’t want to, is something I’ve never experienced so fully in a book before, I’ll give Gaiman that much. The Ocean at the End of the Lane didn’t have much of a similar feeling to the other Gaiman books I’ve read, but I would still recommend it if you are a fan of his. Otherwise, you can probably pass on this one.

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