Ocean at the End of the Lane Weaves Magic

The Ocean at the End of The Lane
By Neil Gaiman
HarperCollins 0062255657
* * * *

Few authors mine mythology with the aplomb and imagination of Neil Gaiman. For his latest, Gaiman offers a melange of Norse and Wiccan beliefs. Our narrator is an unnamed 7-year-old boy or, more accurately, his grown persona recalling events of 40 years earlier. When he was a lad in remote Sussex, his parents took in a boarder, a rather crude opal miner who ran over the family kitten while moving in. Needless to say, our protagonist isn’t exactly wracked by grief when he shows up dead in his car just down the lane. He is, however, shaken up until comforted by 11-year-old Lettie Hempstock.

Lettie is odd and wise beyond her years. She lives with her mother and grandmother on a farm without men and Grandma Hempstock explains there never were any! Moreover, Lettie takes the boy to an ordinary pond and insists it’s an ocean. Thus begins the lad’s association with Lettie, who also seems to know a lot about the terrible nightmares he’s been having; in fact, Lettie suspects something quite sinister is at play. And so will you when you read about an encounter Lettie and the boy have in a field on the edge of the Hempstock property.

Things get even worse for the boy when gray-eyed Ursula Monkton shows up as their new boarder and governess. The boy’s sister is enchanted by Ursula and his father literally seduced, but she gives him the willies and Ursula, in turn, seeks to torment and imprison the boy. Needless to say, she’s not just a Scandinavian housekeeper. Nor is the pond just a pond or the Hempstocks just an unorthodox family. All will culminate in a paranormal struggle. Forty years later, the boy—now a man—returns to the farm to see what became of Lettie. It surprises him to find Grandma Hempstock still alive.

I shall say no more other than your appreciation of the novel will be greatly enhanced if you research the Norse goddess Mar┼Źn (also known as Mare or Mara) and neo-pagan views on wormholes. I’d also check out ancient Celtic worship of the Triple Goddess (called Brigit among the Irish, but generally expressed as Maiden, Mother, and Crone). I’ll add parenthetically that not a single review of this book has mentioned the Triple Goddess, an omission I take to mean that a lot of young reviewers have never taken a mythology course!

Gaiman’s storytelling is magical in its own right. In fact, this may be his most coherent novel to date, one marked by clarity of purpose and unity of narrative that’s devoid of past tendencies to takes flights of fancy that were clearer in his mind than on the page. I ripped through The Ocean at the End of the Lane in a single snowy afternoon. Though not troubled, I had very unusual dreams that night!

Rob Weir

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