Google+ Bookslingers Blog: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at The End of the Lane isn't quite like any other Neil Gaiman book I've read, and I've read them all.

It's spooky, but not about the dead, like The Graveyard Book. It occasionally fills you with existential dread, like American Gods, but on a much smaller, homelier scale. And it puts you in mind of secret worlds, but much earthier ones than Neverwhere. Also there's a lot more in the way of baked goods.

It's almost like Gaiman took all the fiddly, overarching complexities of all the mythologies in all his previous books and distilled them down, to big and vague-edged simple shapes that fit comfortably inside the perceptions of a seven-year-old boy like Ocean's narrator.

Said narrator is never named, but you forget about that almost immediately. It's not that you start to think of him as anyone in particular; more that he doesn't need a name. You know what you need to know about him: he is seven years old, he has parents and a sister, and he lives in a house in the country. He exists in a sort of negligent harmony with his environment the way most young children do, only noticing when something in that relationship changes that it was there at all.

In our narrator's case, the change comes the day their boarder steals the family's car and drives it down the lane to commit suicide inside it.

Things Start To Happen after that, and our narrator gets caught up in something much bigger than himself that may very well destroy him, helpless to extricate himself without the help of the three ladies I started calling the Triad in my head: Old Mrs. Hempstock, her daughter Ginnie Hempstock, and Ginnie's daughter Lettie, a girl a few years older than the narrator who says the pond in their back yard is an ocean. There is also a wicked nanny. Those are always fun.

It's a very grim sort of story; scary, but not nightmare-scary. More that feeling that you maybe shouldn't wander in the woods alone at night, because there are things out there that think you're delicious. It's a dark sort of story but doesn't exactly feel dark, even though most of it seems to take place at night. It's hard to explain, guys. But it didn't leave me feeling like I'd stumbled my way out of the dark. More like the darkness was not what I thought it was in the first place.

Nothing in this story is what it seems. The pond is not a pond. The wicked nanny fools both the narrator's parents and his sister into believing she is trustworthy and safe. The Hempstock ladies are something else entirely, something we're given the impression our poor mortal brains can't entirely comprehend.

Though you can always depend upon them for a good strong cup of tea, which isn't nothing.