TPG reviews: The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, by Neil Gaiman
A truly mesmerizing journey from beginning to end. You should read it. Yes, that means you.
It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.
His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.
My rating: 5/5
The Ocean at the End of Lane really is an experience like no other. It is a surreal, creepy and thrilling adventure that had me hooked from very early on. It is the single most delightful reading experience I have had in a long time, and I ended up racing through it in only a handful of sessions.
In case you couldn’t tell from any of the above, I rather enjoyed this book.
The book is presented as the middle-aged narrator’s memories of his childhood. Having just attended a funeral, he finds himself driving to a farm where Lettie Hempstock, a friend of his, once lived. Lettie was apparently a rather odd individual, seeing as she believed the duckpond at the back of the farm to be an ocean. After talking to a woman who he presumes to be Lettie’s mother, the narrator walks over to sit by the pond finds himself recalling how he met Lettie forty years earlier.
The book then gets very weird, very very quickly. Saying much more than that would spoil things, and so I won’t.
Throughout the novel, the writing is superb. The description is rich and detailed without ever feeling intrusive, and the dialogue was always spot on. Several characters’ names are never given; this seems like a rather odd decision at first, but ultimately it serves to complement the eerie atmosphere which pervades much of the book. The narrator himself is never named explicitly, though it is hinted at a few times.
All of the characters in the novel are beautifully realised, but two in particular deserve mention. The narrator himself is a fascinating individual, who was incredibly insular as a child and so had no real friends before meeting Lettie. His voice felt well and truly unique, and giving him the benefit of hindsight also leads to some nice little touches in his narration. My favourite character of all, however, has to be Lettie Hempstock herself. It soon becomes clear that there is something supernatural about Lettie, though it takes a while for the full extent of her nature to come to light. Lettie is incredibly overpowered in terms of her abilities, but a couple of flaws and limitations keep her from sinking any of the tension. Her mother and grandmother are just as interesting, though they sadly are not seen nearly as often as Lettie is.
It is very hard to find anything bad to say about this book. There is a twist about two thirds’ of the way through which comes a little out of left field, but that’s really about it as far as criticisms go. Reading this book was a joy from beginning to end and I would recommend it to just about anyone. Definitely worth a look.