Have you ever read a book that made you feel like a little kid? A book so powerful in its simplicity that you are left breathless? A book that, at first, reads like an innocent fairy tale but soon reveals a surprising mythology?
A book you'll remember always. A book written by a master, a title rightly earned.
It was almost impossible for me to set aside 'The Ocean at the End of the Lane'. Neil Gaiman is on my Top 10 list of favorite authors ('Neverwhere' is my particular favorite of all his works), and I've never been steered wrong. I read his newest story at night, while in bed, feeling every emotion experienced by the narrator, a middle-aged man remembering a trying, emotional, scary time when he was 7 years-old.
When he takes us back to his seventh year, it begins with his birthday party, a party that no one attended, except for his immediate family. And then he receives, and falls in love with, a little black kitten he names 'Fluffy'. He is a quiet boy, without friends, and recedes into the comfort of books.
But when an opal miner arrives to board in their home, the tale turns dark and it is then when our young narrator meets Lettie Hempstock, a young girl who lives in a farmhouse at the end of the lane. She shares the home with her grandmother and mother, two warm, welcoming women. Powerful women.
Near their farmhouse is a pond, which Lettie claims is the ocean over which they sailed from the 'old country'. As their friendship becomes stronger, Lettie vows to protect her young friend. From what, he wonders, and that 'what' is strange and evil, and determined to take away everyone he holds dear, including his own life and the world around him.
It's a small book; almost 180 pages; but it stays with you. It reads like a fairy tale, but adult situations abound. Remember, this is the first adult novel Gaiman's written in a long time.
It contains his usual theme of innocence gone dark, but with that darkness comes light...and this light is astounding.
Welcome back, Mr. Gaiman. This one was worth waiting for.
'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' is now available at your local independent bookstore and library.