Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Price: Rs 399
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Released: June 18, 2013
Some books are meant to be read with a pace slower than a snail. It is not because the book contains some rather obscure topic which is not easy to fathom. Rather, it is because the book might take you through a gamut of emotions and requires some patience to know what the author is trying to say. English author Neil Gaiman does give you that feel with his latest work, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Let me give you a word of warning before you start reading this adult fantasy: the element of fantasy has nothing to do with magic wands and chanting. The revelation comes once you start reading the book.
You are introduced to the protagonist (no names except a George which comes in between) who has returned to his hometown in England for a funeral. He goes back to his now-demolished home and goes further down the lane where he remembers the farm and Hempstock ladies – 11-year-old Lettie, her mother and grandmother. A walk down to the pond in the farm makes him go back to the time when he was just seven, living with his parents and sister. His life seems simple filled with books and a vivid imagination. But you say balderdash, his parents shift him to his sister’s room and a lodger shifts into his room Things change when his beloved cat dies under the lodger’s truck and then the lodger steals the family van to commit suicide at the end of the lane. When the protagonist goes with his father to check the van, he gets introduced Lettie and her family. A strange bond is created. Though just 11, Lettie seems older and the family speaks of people and situation from a bygone era. He seeks her help for a problem but he commits the mistake of leaving her hand when told not to.
Back home, a worm which he pulls out of his foot brings in ancient powers that work against him. A mysterious woman, Ursula Monkton, arrives as a caretaker of the kids. He quickly realises that Ursula is a monster out to get him. She wins over the family and seduces the father. Cornered, he seeks help from Lettie and her family. They struggle to keep Ursula and the Varmints (scavengers preying on people) away from our hero.
If you are familiar with Gaiman’s work, chances are you will be aware of his style. But for newbies to his books, you might take your time to understand this unusual style of writing an adult fantasy. Just like the varmints in the story, the story’s dark angle and Gaiman writing style creeps into your mind. It gets into you, just like the worm which finds its way into the protagonist’s body. But that is the beauty of the book. The pond which becomes an ocean (read the book) has an integral connection with the protagonist’s realisation of events and thoughts.
Though the story is narrated from the point of view of a man who goes back into his past and tells a story experienced as an 8-year-old, you feel the fear he experiences. The book is about you, in that sense. The protagonist is a compulsive reader and that itself creates a bond. His imagination comes from these books and they are his strength. Gaiman’s language and narration is exactly what the book ordered for you. Language is simple but his description of events and emotions creates a fabulous build up of the scenes. His characters are people like you and me – real.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is not a book to read on a lark. It deserves your time and imagination to flourish. There are chances of you struggling to find what he might want to say. But that is the book’s strength. You might want to go back to it once more and rediscover it in a newer darker light. Try it!