The Latest from Neil Gaiman
“Reality is not always probable, or likely.” ― Jorge Luis Borges
Reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is like remembering something that you half-dreamed as a child. A man goes back to the town he grew up in to attend his father’s funeral. Escaping his family duties for a few moments, he takes a drive around town, down the streets he once knew. He stops at an old farm where his childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock, used to live. There he is flooded with memories. (By the way, we never really find out our narrator’s name, but we are told that his father called him “Handsome George” when he was a baby.)
Our narrator was a lonely and bookish child. He tells us, “I was not happy as a child, although from time to time I was content. I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.” His story is set in motion when a lodger from South Africa steals the family car and commits suicide in it. In the aftermath, the boy is sent to Lettie’s home to shield him from the gruesome death, but he ends up being caught in his own terrible adventure. His new nanny turns out to be “every monster, every witch, every nightmare made flesh.” His own father threatens to drown him.
Gaiman’s writing is dreamlike and surreal. Things are both true and not true at the same time. The real and the unreal are collapsed into one. He presents his story through the eyes of a child, who is just beginning to grasp that our world is often capricious and unfair. Lettie and her family provide solace, yet they also create the path that pulls him into their whimsical, dangerous world. (Lettie reminds me of Pippi Longstocking: though she’s only eleven, she is able to think fast and make her way in the adult world.) This is a book that will have you thinking about your own childhood. Its words will come floating back to you long after you’ve finished the last page.