This short story turned short novel is an exciting fairy tale of memory and magic. A grown man returns to Sussex, the place of his childhood, for a funeral. As he wanders to the place where his house once stood, he is instead drawn further down, to the end of the lane, where he starts to remember a long-lost friend he hasn’t thought about in years, Lettie Hempstock, and how she saved him from the babysitter from hell, among other things.
Many fairy tales are about little girls and boys who are brave, who walk head on into the magic realm and succeed with brash cleverness. This is not that story, and felt all the more real for it. This is a fairy tale about real life, and how easily that magic is lost.
Neil Gaiman has captured what childhood felt like for me, including the books, the special places, and the isolation. More importantly, this story brought back the absolute primal wonder and terror of what it means to be a child in a big and scary world where adults have all the power and kids have imagination to make sense of it. A duck pond can be an ocean. An old woman can be old enough to witness the birth of the sun. Cats can be magic. Shadows can be monsters.
Like The Graveyard Book and Coraline, The Ocean at the End of the Lane pulls you into the fantastic nightmare that is Narnia, Neverland, Oz, and Wonderland, and all the great places I wish I could visit again for the first time.
“That’s the trouble with living things. Don’t last very long. Kittens one day, old cats the next. And then just memories. And the memories fade and blend and smudge together.”