Goodreads: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Magical Realism
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.
Ever since picking up Neverwhere two years ago, Gaiman quickly climbed to the top of my favorite authors list. So when I picked this up and really struggled to get into it, I felt just a little bit disappointed. But then I saw it on Audible as narrated by Gaiman himself, and with a credit to spare, decided to try it out—after all, who wouldn’t love to have him read to them? His voice is so soothing! If you tried or try to read this and can’t seem to get into it, I’d highly recommend giving the audiobook a chance. But with that said, this was truly one of the stranger and more horrifying tales that I’ve read and while it was…an interesting journey, it’s safe to say that it’s not my favourite book by Gaiman.
“Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”
The story starts with a man who wanders away from a funeral and visits his old childhood home. As he wanders down to the old farmhouse at the end of the lane, memories of a childhood experience so terrifying and bewilderingly magical come flooding back to him. We’re taken back to the time when the South African man, and little Lettie Hempstock came into his life and set into motion a chain of strange and incomprehensible events full of monsters straight from your wildest nightmares, that surely it couldn’t have happened, could it?
Listening to Gaiman read this book was an experience I’d love to repeat! His narration and portrayal of the characters really pulled me into the story so that I felt every moment of terror, relief, awe, and disbelief. This story was really quite terrifying and it’s hard to imagine that it was actually written for children (if I’m not mistaken). Despite the quiet and idyllic life in the countryside, there’s a certain sense of foreboding that permeated every word that Gaiman spoke. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more terrified listening to a story about monsters come to life from behind the thin veil separating our world from another! I just wanted to shout RUN! RUN RUN!! and flail my arms wildly about (which of course I didn’t since I listened to most of this book on various work trips and that probably wouldn’t got me kicked off the plane)! 😂
“Oh, monsters are scared,” said Lettie. “That’s why they’re monsters.”
In terms of plot and character though, there was a lot going on and I did find myself confused a lot throughout the narration–not because of Gaiman’s narration but because the story itself was meandering. There were many characters whose purpose I wasn’t sure of and I wondered if they were part of the sinister creatures of the otherworld or were they just random, albeit very weird, bystanders that just happened to pass by this quiet village at the time? I did like the Hempstocks though. They were funny and again strange but good creatures. I liked Lettie’s spunky attitude and do right and protect others from evil. That said, I wondered how they’d ended up there, where they really came from, and what happened to them as the years passed? Questions that I felt weren’t addressed or unsatisfactorily addressed by the end.
While I did enjoy the reading experience, I still don’t think I would’ve made it through this had I not chosen to go for the audiobook. For a book that’s less than 200 pages, it honestly felt like it would go on forever at times, and it moved at a much slower pace than I initially expected. There’s no doubt that Gaiman did a wonderful job weaving his customary magic that transports readers to mysterious worlds that lie just a little beyond the unknown. But even with his engaging narration, I wasn’t as fully immersed in the story as I’d hoped to be. I’m still glad I gave it a chance though!
Have you read The Ocean at the End of the Lane or is it on your TBR?