The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the newest book by Neil Gaiman. It came out near the end of June. It was a short story/novella that he developed into a novel-length work for publication. I heard about this book months ago, and got all excited for it… and then I found out he was pre-signing copies. And so I ordered one.
I’m not an autograph hound by any means. When I was kid, I went to a professional tennis tournament and watched Jana Novotná play. She was rightthere! I walked up and said, ‘Hi – you’re great! Can I have your autograph?’ But since I had no paper or pen, I had to ask her for a ball to sign. And oh yeah, did she have a pen too??
She did, and was very nice about it.
So much for being prepared. But anyway. I pre-ordered a pre-signed copy of the book from Porter Books in Cambridge, MA (lots of love for little bookshops). And finally, it came!
It’s short – I read it over the weekend. And it’s simple, maybe deceptively so, but by the end, I did get a little misty-eyed. It’s written for adults, and is written as an adult looking back on himself as a kid. It’s a lovely little taste of a story, but definitely feels like a lot was undeveloped. This could have been a really great novel – instead, it’s a brief meditation on loneliness, being different, being small and scared, and small and powerful.
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 Lane is 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.
And this is a story NPR did about it.
When I finished the book, I was thinking that I probably didn’t need to buy it – it was so short, I shouldn’t’ve bothered… But now, I’m thinking it’s good I did, because I’ll really have the chance to go back and read it a couple of times. I have a feeling there’s a lot more to it then I’m going to get out of a single reading.