• West Cork Literary Festival 2021

The Ocean at the End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Speculative Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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Headline is relaunching new editions of five Neil Gaiman novels: NeverwhereStardustAmerican GodsAnansi Boys and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. As I had never read a Neil Gaiman novel, I decided to remedy that and dived into The Ocean at the End of The Lane.

The Ocean at the End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman is described as ‘a brilliantly imaginative and poignant fairy tale from the modern master of wonder and terror. This bewitching and harrowing tale of mystery and survival, and memory and magic, makes the impossible all too real…’ Originally published in 2013, The Ocean at the End of The Lane is a tale of pure mystery and imagination.

Our narrator is now an adult and back at his home place for a funeral. Feeling overwhelmed by the day, he goes off on an aimless drive, surprised to find himself pulling up by the farmhouse at the end of the lane in its ‘dilapidated red-brick glory’, the Hempstocks’ house. Briefly, as a child, he became acquainted with Lettie Hempstock, who was a few years older than him, and her mother and grandmother. He had been seven-years old and had just been exposed to the dead body of his parents lodger in their family car early one morning.

Growing up a shy and self-contained individual with his books for company, he lived with his mother and father, and his sister, in a large house that his parents were struggling to pay for. Taking on a lodger was seen as a temporary solution but it was in fact the moment when lives were changed forever. With the police at the death scene, the young boy is clearly in the way. Lettie Hempstock suddenly appears and suggests he come to her house until his father is ready to collect him. Lettie is different from the other children he has met. Gentle and confident, she brings him to meet her mother and grandmother and he is accepted, without question, into their ramshackle and cosy home.

An adventure is about to begin as the reader is taken on a mystical and otherworldly journey where strangeness and reality are mixed to the point where it’s difficult to separate the here and the there. With a dreamlike quality to the story, the young boy enters a world that is both fantastic and weird. He has the unfailing trust of a child and a very clear idea of what is right and what is wrong. His family dynamic changes and his relationship with his father takes on a very sinister edge. Something is clearly amiss. An evil has been disturbed, one that is malevolent and is clawing, one that takes and takes, one that needs to be locked away before the world is literally eaten up star by star, tree by tree leaving a vast grey emptiness behind.

At times a perplexing and chilling read, The Ocean at the End of The Lane is an adult book told from a child’s perspective. Neil Gaiman decided to write a book ‘for anyone who has been seven years old’ and he captures the voice of our narrator’s earlier years excellently, conveying his fears, his dreams, his reality bringing them very much alive for the reader. The creatures in The Ocean at the End of The Lane definitely do go bump in the night as the Hempstock family reveal a bit more of their strange ways and their need for existence in our world to help keep us safe from the dark. A supernatural fantasy with an undercurrent of horror, The Ocean at the End of The Lane is a very unique read, one that will make you think about your own existence and that of ‘others’. Are we alone in this world of ours? Who really keeps us safe?

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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