Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Is this book for me? Yes.
It takes a certain amount of magic to make you not realize that the main character has no name until you need to write the review.
He is a man in his late forties, early fifties, driving down the lane where he used to live as a child. There was a funeral. It doesn’t say who died, because it doesn’t matter at all. If you’re like me, you’ll think it’s the father. But it doesn’t really matter.
I started by thinking that this is a story I’ve heard before – at some point, if an author gets old enough, there might come a book about remembering.
At the end of the lane, there’s a farm where Old Mrs Hempstock, Mrs Hempstock and Lettie Hempstock used to live. He walks in and asks if there’s still a pond at the back – or an ocean, because that’s what Lettie called it. Sitting by the pond, he remembers.
Except this is Neil Gaiman writing; and the story isn’t about children. Or, well, it’s about him, when he was a child, that summer when he was seven and the opal miner died and he woke up one morning choking on an old coin that had barely appeared into the world. It’s about the girl who had an ocean which was a pond and the thing which wanted to make people happy. It’s about the careless cruelty of adults and the lies they tell to themselves, and about memories and the way they change and the way you fill in the blanks.
The novel (it’s a short novel) has a sketch-like quality to it. If it were a painting, I’d say it’s one of those Eastern things, done with a bit of ink, simple lines and a lot of empty space to draw attention to what’s really important. Or maybe it’s just one of those stories where you’re supposed to scribble on the side. His point of view as a child caught only some things, not others – but his adult self leaves the unpleasant bits in so they’ll catch your eye for a moment and scratch your sense of suspicion.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane isn’t a book for children (you would probably be horrified to know they’re reading it – but, in a way, I think they’d like it). It doesn’t go deep into fantasy worlds, where we would expect some things to happen badly just because that’s how stories go. It’s just at the edge of reality, with him going between the very real reality of his old childhood home and the magic of the world beyond.