The Ocean at the End of the Lane is such a wonderful book. It’s a book that makes you question worlds and question reality, and yet everything it makes you question feels innately true and real. It’s simple but intense, magical but scary, dark but hopeful. It’s perfect.
It’s been well publicized that the story of Ocean began to form in Neil Gaiman’s mind when he discovered that a lodger in his childhood home had, one night, stolen their car, driven it down the road, and committed suicide inside it. And, essentially, this is where Ocean begins too. When our narrator’s lodger commits this very same act, it opens up a rift, awakens an old sort of evil, and mistakes compounding mistakes brings it into our world. But is it truly evil? What does it want? Can our narrator avoid its clutches? Can they put the world back to rights? And what will be the price to do so?
“I remember my own childhood vividly… I knew terrible things.
But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them”
– Maurice Sendak, 1993
This choice of introductory inscription to Ocean speaks volumes, somehow encompassing all that is to follow. Our young narrator is about to learn terrible things about the world. It has the same sort of creep factor that Gaiman created in his earlier book, Coraline – you know that something is terribly, terribly wrong with what is happening, but no-one else seems to notice. Only the Hempstock family, who live on the farm down the lane and on whose ground the ocean lies, can help. They are a family who are as equally unknowable as they make perfect sense. It seems entirely normal - and right - that the strange Hempstock family should exist.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is beautiful and terrifying and touching and utterly, totally, overwhelming good. Everything is up for question and yet it is hard to pinpoint exactly what I should be questioning. Gaiman writes about a world in which the abnormal, the magical, the mysterious, makes perfect sense. Knowing the origins of the story and the way in which the narrator remains unnamed leads us quietly to question how much of this story is based on reality. But it can’t be – can it? In any other circumstances such a thought would be preposterous, and yet Gaiman’s beautiful evocation of this tale makes it seem not only entirely valid but a completely reasonable possibility.