Imagine that you are a seven year old boy in England, and that books are your refuge from a world without any friends. Then, one day, almost like a story from the books you love, you discover that the 2 women and 1 eleven year old girl- the Hempstocks- living at the end of your lane are possessed with magical capabilities beyond your greatest imaginings; and through these powers, even forces that can destroy worlds can be beaten.
This is the premise of Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Despite Goodreads, other websites, and the author himself stating that this is an adult horror novel, I did not view it this same way. To me, this has the makings of a classic of children’s literature…as long as the child reading this tale does not mind a few monsters and a bit of death.
The story is told from the point of view of the seven year old boy, who is never named, both in the present as his adult self, but mainly as his seven year old self, the year in which the events on the lane occurred. It is difficult to write much about this book without giving away plot details as there is adventure and danger on every page.
This now adult boy has returned to the lane of his childhood whilst home for a funeral. We never learn who has died. His childhood home torn down, he walks to the end of the lane to visit the home of Lettie Hemstock, the eleven year old girl who in his youth, saved his life, showed him fantastic things and made him realize that the small pond of water behind her farmhouse is, indeed, an entire ocean.
The boy accompanies Lettie on some magical business and accidentally returns home with a ‘worm’ dug into the sole of his foot. This ‘worm’, when pulled out, morphs into a ‘human woman’ named Ursula Monkton, and is hired by his unknowing parents to be the new babysitter for himself and his (also unnamed) sister. Ursula is a horror- she manipulates the boy’s entire family to turn against him, seduces his father, and tortures him in various ways. The boy knows that only Lettie, her mom, and her gran can help him rid the world of this monstrosity.
The book is unique in a few ways. The author frequently writes about the importance of names in the story, and the Hemstocks use the names of creatures in the fight against them. However, the only people in the book that ARE named are the magical Hempstocks, and the various evil creatures. Perhaps this is a way of signifying that those outside of the sphere of magic do not matter as much to the either the story or, the world.
Using the point of view of the seven year old boy makes everything not only more terrifying, but also more believable, as children convincingly believe in the unnatural horrors of the world, and are also easily accepting of the magic used against these forces.
Details such as the food eaten, the clothing worn, the slang terminology and other various descriptions by Gaiman place the reader into the world of small town England, on a little lane in the country, with ease and aplomb. Once you enter Gaiman’s world, the magic, fantastic situations and enigmatic characters make you want to stay. Indeed, I wish this were a longer story.
This is a novel that deals with themes of friendship, family, love, loss, time and knowledge. Our boy narrator has trouble remembering the things that happened to him the summer he was seven, but luckily for both him and the reader, whenever he returns to the ocean at the end of the lane, it all comes back to him, every time.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This guest review was contributed by Jennifer Harrison.