The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a difficult book to review. Much of it is fantasy, and you really have to read the book to get a feel for it.
As the story begins, an unnamed man has returned to his childhood home to attend a funeral. But he takes a detour to a farmhouse he visited as a child, and he gets into a conversation with the woman who lived there (and lives there still), and next thing you know, he’s seven years old again: “standing in that hallway, it was all coming back to me. Memories were waiting at the edges of things, beckoning to me. Had you told me that I was seven again, I might have half-believed you, for a moment.”
The boy had been friends with Lettie, the girl who lived in the farmhouse. Out back was a pond, or, as Lettie called it, an ocean. “‘It’s just pretending, though,’ (the boy) told her. ‘Your pond. It’s not an ocean. It can’t be. Oceans are bigger than seas. Your pond is just a pond.’ ‘It’s just as big as it needs to be,’ said Lettie.”
And then Lettie and the boy are off on a grand … adventure? Dream? It’s a little hard to know, but author Neil Gaiman does a great job of evoking a mood and calling up the slippery, fragile aura of childhood. “I do not miss my 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.”
After he has had this reverie of memories, the boy/man says goodbye to the woman in the farmhouse, who reminds him that he’s visited a few times over the years. He insists he hasn’t. But she describes a few occasions, always when he was facing something difficult, when he has come by. “You drove to the end of the lane and you came here, like you always do.”
I realized while reading this that the author also wrote “Coraline.” I haven’t read that book, but I saw the movie. It was strange as well — ostensibly for kids, but kind of terrifying and dark. This book was very similar. Very creative, very well-written.
I enjoyed the book overall even though it was not my usual genre. It stayed with me for several days as I thought about it … if you enjoy fantasy, give it a read.