Happy almost-Thanksgiving, friends!
I had to wait for a while to get this on audio from the library, but it was worth the wait!
The Ocean at the End of the Lane. by Neil Gaiman. Read by the author. Audiobook by Midwest Tape. Harper Collins, 2013.
It’s Neil Gaiman, so I had to read it, and since he is always fabulous at reading his own work, I had to listen to it instead of reading it on paper. I’d gotten the impression from other reviews I’d read that this was a peaceful stroll down memory lane. It is, sort of, but being Gaiman, there’s also a fantasy-horror element that shouldn’t have surprised me, but somehow did.
Our unnamed narrator has come back to Sussex for a funeral. He should head straight to his sister’s for the meal after the service, but instead, he drives to the development where his childhood home once stood, and past it to the farm where his friend Lettie Hempstock used to live. He knocks on the door, and it’s answered by Old Mrs. Hempstock, just as he remembers her. Or is it Mrs. Hempstock, now looking just like Old Mrs. Hempstock? In fact, many things that he remembers are puzzling: why did Lettie insist that the pond was an ocean? And why did she suddenly leave for Australia and never come back?
As he sits by the pond in the backyard, memories from when he was seven and first met Lettie Hempstock (then 11) come back to him, memories of the opal miner who briefly boarded with his family, before committing suicide in the family car, and the casually cruel power from the other side that his pain loosed in our world. These are at first small but vivid: he wakes one morning choking on a coin, and when he goes downstairs, finds his sister and her friends crying because they believe he has been throwing more coins at them. Even though Lettie tells him that she knows just what the problem is, things don’t go smoothly solving it.
Gaiman reads this mostly in a calm, reflective voice, though parts are truly terrifying. I was happy to hear the Sussex accent when he describes it, as it’s not one that I can just call to mind. At five discs long, it’s very short, with that powerful wallop of adventure and deep thinking about the nature of childhood and sacrifice sandwiched between deceptively sweet layers of nostalgia, described so realistically that it feels as if everything Gaiman describes really happened to him as a child.
I know I’m not the only person who’s read this – what did you think?