A middle aged man returns to the Sussex country village where he grew up for a funeral. On his way to the wake he stops of at the house of his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock. Lettie is no longer there, but staring at the duck pond that Lettie swore was an ocean, he recalls what happened to them when he was seven years old.
With his family falling on hard times, our unnamed hero has to give up his bedroom to a lodger, an opal miner from South Africa. He first gets to meet Lettie and her family when the lodger gasses himself in the family car and a train of supernatural events is set rolling. You see Lettie’s family are not exactly what they seem. The Hempstock house may be as old as the Domesday Book, but the three women are far older and possess much wisdom and, shall we say, ability. Unfortunately, our hero unwittingly becomes a means for creatures from beyond the earthly dimensions to transit into our world and his family fall under the influence of the evil nanny Ursula Monkton. Can the Hempstocks save the day?
Revealing anymore of the plot would be criminal and murder your enjoyment of a truly magical book. The author Neil Gaiman has a real talent for getting under the skin of children, while I was reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I became so immersed in the character of our anonymous hero that I felt myself actually becoming him. Naturally, it helped that the book is set in the 1960s, the very decade that occupied my own childhood, so there were a lot of familiar reference points that I had in common with the protagonist; like the coveted copy of Smash comic, now unobtainable in the suicide’s car. However, Gaiman also captures that sense of anything being possible to a child’s imagination, whether natural or supernatural in that delicious moment before real life knocks all that wonder out of us. I also share his views on quite how disgusting tinned peas are and the amazing revelation of just how good roasted carrots taste,
Full of vividly imagined and scary, but also reassuring magical phenomena this book is a real delight, I give it a big 666 out of 666.
If you are unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman, I recommend:
The Graveyard Book: Imagine what would happen if The Jungle Book was set in a graveyard, with vampires, ghosts and ghouls, yes it’s that much fun.
American Gods: Shadow, a recently released jailbird discovers that his wife has died in mysterious circumstances. On his way home he falls in with the mysterious Mr Wednesday who claims to have once been a god. What follows is an amazing road trip through America to prevent a disaster of global proportions. Along the way we discover just what happens to gods when people stop believing in them. There’s also a disagreeable leprechaun, a great gag with Wodan’s ravens and a killer chilli recipe.
Review by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.