This was not a book. This was an experience. The Ocean at the End of the Lane wrapped me up in a beautiful, fable-like world and held me tight. I read this book in two sittings, essentially, and only because I had to go to work in between. It is a fairly short book numbering around 170 pages and very easy to get through, not because the content is easy but rather because it is SO GOOD I could not put it down.
The story is primarily about a specific experience of a man when he was seven. It begins with him as a middle-aged man visiting his old childhood town because of a funeral. He wanders down the lane to the old Hempstock farmhouse and begins to remember. And since this is a Neil Gaiman novel, the things he remembers are a bit fantastical.
This is a book about memory and about children. Life and the way we experience it are vastly different when we are kids. We accept things that adults would never be able to. I was just listening to an episode of This American Life about this. (Check it out here.) Children are able to form very logical conclusions about things that adults dismiss or grow out of, magical things. Gaiman examines the possibility that children see much, much more than anyone gives them credit for.
I’m not sure if Gaiman set out to write a fable or a faerie tale, but the tone of the novel is very similar to one. There is a general ethereal quality to the story as it barrels along (things pick up and get started very quickly, which I liked, and you simply must hang on for the ride). It is a finished, highly polished, and extremely well written tale. It may also have some of the best characters Gaiman has ever written in it. I love the Hempstock family. If there is more of their story out there I hope he aims to tell it. I am certainly not ready to be done with Lettie, Mrs. Hempstock, and Old Mrs. Hempstock. Gaiman is coming to Cambridge as a part of the book tour but I didn’t get a ticket. My devastation is unending. Alas.
If you are looking for a beautifully written story with great characters and amazing attention to detail, then please go get a copy of this book. Immediately.