Published: 2013 by William Morrow
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Neil Gaiman’s latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, opens as the narrator returns to his childhood home for a funeral. He slips away from the crowd and is visited by memories of the past. When the narrator was a child, his parents struggled with money, and took in a boarder who later committed suicide. When the police involved to investigate, the narrator struck up a friendship with Lettie Hempstock, a girl from a neighboring farm.
Lettie has a unique perspective of the world, insisting that the pond on her farm is really the ocean. Like the pond, the Hempstocks are more than they seem. By spending time with Lettie, the narrator discovers that magic is real.
This is my favorite Neil Gaiman novel so far. It’s hauntingly beautiful, and highlights the transition from childhood to the world of adults. The writing is exquisite and profound.
I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I found joy in the things that made me happy. The custard was sweet and creamy in my mouth, the dark swollen currants in the spotted dick were tangy in the cake-thick chewy blandness of the pudding, and perhaps I was going to die that night and perhaps I would never go home again, but it was a good dinner, and I had faith in Lettie Hempstock.
This dichotomy between childhood and adulthood served as a motif throughout the novel. The adults in the story tried to protect the narrator from the impact of poverty, but he realizes that he has to give up his bedroom. The villain combined the most nightmarish evil stepmother trope with a conniving seductress. The troubles and imagination of a child are blended with the concerns of the adults, creating a strangely magical world that leaves readers vaguely unsettled.
If you haven’t read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I recommend picking it up immediately.