The Ocean at the end of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond this world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is a primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.
His only defence is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.
It was only a duckpond, out at the back of the farm. It wasn’t very big.
Lettie Hempstock said it was an ocean, but I knew that was silly. She said they’d come here across the ocean from the old country.
Her mother said that Lettie didn’t remember properly, and it was a long time ago, and anyway, the old country had sunk.
Old Mrs Hempstock, Lettie’s grandmother, said they were both wrong, and that the place that had sunk wasn’t the really old country. She said she could remember the really old country.
She said the really old country had blown up.
Neil Gaiman has constructed a grown-up fairy tale with his latest novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. When our nameless narrator finds himself outside his childhood home, on his way to a funeral, he is surprised to notice that the inhabitants of forty years before are still there, and haven’t changed a bit. But then, they always did seem a bit strange, especially Hettie Lempstock, his childhood friend who has been eleven forever.
When an opal miner is found dead at the end of the lane, the narrator meets the Hempstock family, three women who live in the farmhouse there. They seem to have powers that other people don’t possess. When the villagers mysteriously start receiving money, the narrator and Lettie realise that the opal miner’s death has started something otherworldly and needs to be stopped. Unfortunately they release it into this world, with potentially horrifying consequences. Can the narrator, a child of seven, and this mysterious girl, with a duck pond for an ocean, return things to normal?
I was gripped by Neil Gaiman’s short, but enjoyable tome. It’s a fantasy but at the same time, believable and very well told. I loved the Hempstock family, with their quirky powers, and in particular Lettie. This is a book about returning to your childhood, but not a book for children. Despite its length, it manages to be powerful, gripping and magical. The Ocean at the End of the Lane transported me to another time and place, and I loved it.