A week or so ago I had to attend my cousin’s wedding in the Upper Peninsula. To save on gas I carpooled with my parents. I found myself crammed in the backseat with the family dog and a pile of books to pass the time. This was a familiar trip for me, so like the many family vacations to visit our Yooper relatives from my youth, only this time my siblings were driving separate and I didn’t spend it arguing over who had more space. Considering how much it reminded me of summers long past, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane was an appropriate book to tackle on the ride.
Being Gaiman’s first adult novel since 2005’s Anansi Boys it seems fitting that this novel tells the story of a seven year old boy. Our story is told by an unnamed protagonist who is taking a time out from a funeral he’s attending. He makes his way to his childhood home and wanders over to the pond on Hempstock Farm. There he recalls his friend Lettie Hempstock and the magical, mysterious, and frightening events that happened when he was seven years old. Gaiman weaves a beautiful tale that calls back to many tropes found in children’s stories; the strong, independent neighbor girl (Bridge to Terabithia), the child confronted by an ‘evil’ adult and no one believes him (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter Series, etc), and the world being shown to be more wondrous and magical than originally purported.
What makes The Ocean at the End of the Lane even better is that it can be read in a day. The book is under 200 pages and is a really quick read. Even though the protagonist is a 7 year old I don’t recommend this book for young children, as it deals with a few adult themes and has some moments that are quite terrifying. If you’re looking for something more kid friendly Gaiman has several options for you, including his Newbery Medal Winning The Graveyard Book. I can talk about Neil Gaiman all day if you like, his titles are many and I’ve liked every one I read. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to talk about all his wonderful titles to the fullest extent. That said Gaiman is a great fantasy author to pick up for the non-fantasy reader, especially if you like a hint of darkness to your happy endings. My favorites include Stardust and Neverwhere and I’ve recently begun reading his fantastic Sandman series.