The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Wordy Wednesday

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow Books


Publication Date: 2013 Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Magical Realism, Magic, Memory

Why Picked: It’s a Gaiman and it was my book club pick.

First Line: “It was only a duckpond, out at the back of the farm. It wasn’t very big.”


Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Laneis told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark. [1]


As you all know I was lucky enough to get to go and hear Neil Gaiman read from this book and hear him talk about how this novel came to be. He talked about how he wrote this book for his wife when she was in Australia making an album and in he was in Florida working and he missed her. He decided to write her a short story and since she was not a fan of fantasy and all the things which he is known for but instead of feelings and honest stuff which he feel he is not good at because “I’ve never been into doing a lot of feelings because — well, I’m English,” he decided to write her a short story based on a memory. And that turned into one of his shortest but best adult novels to date.

Ocean is at once the most real, most magical and most horrific story I have read so far from Neil Gaiman. Its realism comes from the voice of the 7 year old boy who narrates much of the story. As one of the woman in my book club mentioned he was so very good at getting that voice. Realizing that the entirety of the world is still new and different enough that magical events that take place here are, while not exactly hum-drum, nothing that one cannot incorporate easily into one’s understanding of the world is part of what 7 is and Gaiman nails it. That is the reality of Ocean, that voice. Additionally, one of the most magical scenes at the very end, I also think is one of the most real. The need to go home, the need to know if it is all OK, the search for confirmation that we are living our lives well and good. And while I do not want to give away the resolution of the last scenes, there is something comforting in thinking maybe we all have check-ins but none of us get to remember them.

Magic is Gaiman’s stock and trade and one of the reasons I love his work. His magical sense and use is amazing and makes me long for a world were these things are true and real. His vision of the aspects of a triune goddess, which are scattered all over his work, embodied in the Hempstocks is at it finest here. Lettie, Ginnie and Old Mrs. Hempstock are Grave’s trio as they should always be. And his description of “the language of shaping” was glorious. When the narrator talks about understanding the language of shaping in his dreams, I realized Gaiman understands people’s true desires, perhaps mine even more so, at a bone deep level.

“I have dreamed of that song, of the strange words to that simple rhyme-song, and on several occasions I have understood what she was saying, in my dreams. In those dreams I spoke that language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. It is the most basic building brick of everything. In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed and breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, ‘Be whole,’ and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping.”

And the horror, the horror of the monster who wears the human face. The horror of the parent who suddenly is no longer loving but a monster also. And the true horror of all the things that you do not understand at seven but you will understand when you are older. The horror that adults will not believe the things you need to tell them and show them. They do not see the things you see. And in many ways you are totally alone. And the horror that the magic of year seven, while we can glimpse at it through stories like these, we will lose it again, at the end.

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