“Nobody actually looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody.”
Neil Gaiman’s newest adult novel, the Ocean at the End of the Lane is, quite simply, the essence of childhood. Told from the perspective of a quiet, lonely, bookish seven-year-old boy, the reader is plunged into his world of magic, secrets, and the danger and terror that every child knows really is lurking in the darkness. Gaiman has obliterated the veil between adult and child entirely; Ocean is a young boy’s struggle to understand both the adult world around him and the dark world of fairy tales that exists beneath it.
As our unnamed narrator tumbles through the strange events that unfold after the suicide of his family’s lodger, he is guided and protected by his new friend Lettie and her mysterious mother and grandmother and inspired by the fantasy novels and comic books that he loves. Magic, reality, and haunting nostalgia are blended so perfectly that you’ll find yourself wondering if, perhaps, you too battled monsters and nightmares with your friends when you were seven and have simply forgotten, the memories gently rewritten into a normal sleepover, a mean babysitter.
In the world of the Ocean at the End of the Lane, anything is possible and all that stands between mystery and understanding is a slight shift in perspective. And as Lettie points out, “Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren’t.”