After eight years between adult novels, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane has been much anticipated by his fans. The long-awaited book is slim, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in its dark whimsy.
The novel begins when the narrator, who never is named, returns to his home to give a eulogy and ends up passing time by literally wandering down memory lane.
When he finishes reminiscing about his old home, he continues down the lane and stumbles upon a duck pond. The memories he did not know he had forgotten came rushing back. They were about a girl named Lettie whom he had known long ago.
He remembers that he and Lettie used to call the pond the ocean. We all have experienced how small everything seems when you return to a place from your childhood. Gaiman uses this sensation to instill some doubts about what the narrator’s actual memories are and what has been enlarged by a child’s mind.
Does he actually remember Lettie’s grandmother making the moon full every night, Lettie recounting tales of seeing the Big Bang and watching Lettie tame forest spirits? Or are all those memories actually misconceptions of the past, like the ocean being a duck pond?
While the narrator is pondering this question, a terrible incident is recalled. The suicide of a lodger who was staying with his family releases the magic that stirs ancient powers; among the powers is a nanny named Ursula Monkton.
Gaiman manages to introduce and make you terrified of a monster disguised as a beautiful woman in the first introductory sentence of Ursula. That terror is continued on as the narrator and Lettie battle against this unworldly creature, determined to destroy this world.
This is a story about the fears of children and adults alike, a story of sacrifice and discovery. Even though this book is published as an adult novel, that basis is made more on the tone of storytelling rather than the storyline.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is another one of Gaiman’s literary wonders which so brilliantly intertwines fascination and terror.