I downloaded The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (as read by the author himself) via Audible with a free credit. I’m quite a fan of Gaiman, so when I was searching for an audio book I am always drawn to his stories and discovered this one.
Sussex, England: A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. He is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet sitting by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean), the unremembered past comes flooding back. Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie – magical, comforting, wise beyond her years – promised to protect him, no matter what.
One of the reasons that I am constantly downloading audiobooks is that I like to listen to stories as I fall asleep at night as well as listen to them as I drive around town. I started The Ocean at the End of the Lane and immediately found myself drawn to this strange otherworldly tale, at times scary and intense, always imaginative and all consuming. But soon discovered this is not a good bed time story. I would lie there at night as Chris slept soundly beside me, wide awake staring at my phone to caught up in the story, too scared to stop the story, too frightened to keep going. I would pause it, try to drift off, then worried about the boy, sit up and start it again. Restless I started a different audiobook and drifted off to sleep within a matter of minutes.
This is not a book to try to fall asleep to.
Like his other stories, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is full of strange mythologies interwoven with such relatable characters that I was pulled into the story, sucked in, and had to fight to find my way out again. Though the main part of the story happens in a man’s past when he is quite young, it is not a story for children. At the same time, Gaiman is able to capture the voice of a young boy, reminding me of how I used to view the world, that I began to recall my own childhood, well, at least all the scary moments of growing up.
As I’ve come to expect from Gaiman, his prose is wonderful and wonderfully read by himself. The pacing of Gaiman’s writing is beyond compare and I never step outside the story to wonder what will happen because I am always entranced by what is happening, in that moment. Some times so engulfed in the story that I can’t sleep. Gaiman has such an amazing talent for voice acting that I have come to love the stories he reads himself. Just the other day I was in a bookstore and discovered a book of his I have yet to read, but didn’t pick it up because I want to find out if it is an audiobook instead. My queue in Audible is full of books by Gaiman and I don’t see that discontinuing any time soon.
I realize that my review more describes my experience reading this book than what it is about, but as far as I can tell, this is the best way to review this book. For one, to describe the story would be to ruin the magic of the tale, anything more said than the blurb ruins the world building and character building that Gaiman worked hard to create. Secondly, I’m not alone in my experiential review of this book. Patrick Rothfuss’ own meandering love story about this book is more about his experience of reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane than a typical review.
This is a story to experience. So, go out there and find your experience. Buy a copy, listen to the audiobook, fall in love with Gaiman just a little bit more.