Friday, October 25, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

No one writes nightmares like Neil Gaiman. The queasy uncertainty about a parent's love, the shapes in the dark that don't yet have rational explanations, the sense that the world is full of mysterious rules that it's dangerous to break, these childhood fears are far more terrifying than gore and mayhem. Too terrifying for an adult, except when something awakens the memory.

The narrator has returned to childhood haunts for a funeral. Something draws him down to the end of the lane where an encounter with one of the Hempstock women brings back memories of what happened when he was seven and a suicide let something dangerous enter his world.

There are moments of humor in this child's eye view of incomprehensible reality, and there's always the reassuring presence of the Hempstocks - granny, mother, and daughter. There are echoes of the patterns of myth and folklore in this fairy tale for a modern world. There are lyrical passages as when the narrator enters the ocean that Lettie Hempstock says exists in their farm pond. “I saw the world I had walked since my birth and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality I knew was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.”

Though The Ocean at the End of the Lane takes place in Spring, it would make a great family read-aloud for Halloween. The author's Coraline evokes similar chills.

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