While The Ocean at the End of the Lane is short –a mere 178 pages- its none the less a brilliant tale of dark fantasy by one the best authors on the planet. It’s a magical tale that evokes a time when childhood seemed to stretch on forever, where time could stand still and where in the darkness, with its crevices and folds that only exist within our peripheral view, hide our dreams and nightscapes.
The slim book begins with a middle-aged man from Sussex, who has returned to his home town for a funeral. While his family home no longer exists, and he feels a bit disenchanted with his family, he none the less feels drawn to a farm at the end of the road. It was here that our narrator begins to remember the little girl named Lettie Hempstock, her mother and grandmother and the pond that Lettie claimed was actually an ocean. As he sits by the pond, memories long since forgotten begin to flood his mind and he is taken back in time to when he was seven years old when he encountered dangerous, strange happenings that should have never happened to a child, let alone forgotten.
But the pond evokes memories, pulling them from their hidden cellars and dank hiding places and our middle age man remembers Lettie –the magical young girl who promises to protect him from the dark things that have come after the death of a lodger; for this suicide will be the catalyst for creatures they’ve existed since time began, but banished by powers that live on the farm, in the pond, to get a foothold in this reality. And its target for entrance is a seven year-old lonely boy.
The book reminds me much of Ray Bradbury (and Stephen King), who’s love of his childhood, and that carefree time in our lives where summers where fine, soft and full of hope only to be replaced by the fall and The October People.
Gaiman packs his story with an emotional punch and grounds his characters firmly in reality that you feel that even with the dark, magical forces wreaking havoc, you can easily identify with the boy (and in a lot of ways, the unusual logic children use to explain how the supernatural and family woes can morph into something horrible).