I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work since I started reading The Sandman graphic novels in my teens. I’ve read most of his novels and short story collections, and when The Ocean at the End of the Lane came out last year, I knew I’d get my hands on it sooner or later.
This is a quiet book that wraps around you and pulls you under softly, slowly, with barely a splash. It opens with the unnamed protagonist avoiding the wake of a funeral. He drives down a country road past the plot that once belonged to his parents, onward to a farm that stirs in him memories of an extraordinary and terrifying event from his childhood.
Gaiman has used the triple goddess, Hekate, the fates, the three furies, etc., time and again in The Sandman, as well as in other works. In this novel, they become the closest thing to friends that the narrator has for a brief period after his seventh birthday. Lettie Hempstock, the youngest of the three, becomes his savior when he unleashes something bad into the world after witnessing the suicide of his parents’ tenant.
The gravity with which the story is told, and the concrete details of the protagonist’s childhood, lend it the feel of being completely factual. I think every adult reader could pick this book up and leave it with a sense of dread surrounding events of their own childhood. Because terrible things do happen to children, and then the world moves on, and those things leave their mark on us.
There was a passage I searched for in the book, after finishing it, that I couldn’t seem to find, so perhaps it was an observation I made while reading instead. Whichever the case, one of the saddest feelings this book left me with was that everyone is a little bit broken, but our adult world doesn’t treat people gently to compensate for that.
This is definitely a book that sits with you and invades some of your private thoughts. It’s not a feel-good read. It might leave your life a little sadder, but hopefully a little more contemplative.