Book Club: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I've reviewed several of Neil Gaiman's books before and with a good reason - Gaiman is one of my favorite writers of all time. He has this rare style of writing that is not only classic, it's entertaining as well. I made it my goal last year to read all of Gaiman's writing and I'm happy to continue that goal through The Ocean

The story starts with an adult visiting an old childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock, while he thinks back of the series of unusual events that brought them together. Years ago, after discovering a man who committed suicide, the unnamed narrator befriends Lettie and her strange, probably immortal, family. This death somehow releases a supernatural being into the world who "helps" people in the neighborhood in unpleasant ways. The narrator wakes up to find a coin lodged in his throat and unable to breathe, for example, because this being thought to help his family with money troubles. 

Related post: Book Club: Norse Mythology

The narrator seeks Lettie's help and she agrees and they go together to bind the spirit. Lettie instructs the narrator to not let go of her hand through the ordeal, but in a moment of surprise, he momentarily lets go. In that instant, a worm, of sorts, lodges itself into the narrator's foot - the supernatural spirit in disguise, and escapes out into our world. It takes the form of an 'Ursula Monkton,' the new nanny hired to take care of the narrator and his sister. The narrator takes a disliking to Ursula but the family loves her. The narrator once again asks the Hempstock family to help get rid of her. 

While a majority of the story takes place in the narrator's memory as a seven-year-old boy, this story is best enjoyed as an adult as this book is about childhood. Gaiman writes in his usual hauntingly gorgeous, beautifully nostalgic style that works to bring out so many emotions while reading. With every description of the narrator's feelings, I could remember being that age and afraid of grown-ups. I could remember feeling every feeling from that age, even though I haven't been seven in over 20 years. I remembered things I never thought to remember. Gaiman's writing can do that. 

Lettie shrugged. “Nobody actually looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody.”
— Ocean at the End of the Lane

Related post: Book Club: Stardust

Gaiman apparently wrote this story for his wife (Amanda Palmer) and inserted a few things from his childhood. The initial suicide discovery was a real-life event in Gaiman's life, in fact. I think that's why this story read so personal for me. Gaiman used trauma from his youth and injected a bit of his magic into the words to make the story very real. 

I highly recommend this book to everyone. Seriously, go read it now. And while you're at it, read all of Gaiman's other books too. He's a magician with words.