The Ocean at the End of the Lane
July 2013 Indie Next List
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI
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A brilliantly imaginative and poignant fairy tale from the modern master of wonder and terror, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman’s first new novel for adults since his #1 New York Times bestseller Anansi Boys.
This bewitching and harrowing tale of mystery and survival, and memory and magic, makes the impossible all too real...
A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse where she once lived, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
A groundbreaking work as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out.
Praise For The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel…
— USA Today on The Ocean at the End of the Lane
“Remarkable . . . wrenchingly, gorgeously elegiac. . . . [I]n The Ocean at the End of the Lane, [Gaiman] summons up childhood magic and adventure while acknowledging their irrevocable loss, and he stitches the elegiac contradictions together so tightly that you won’t see the seams.”
— Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on The Ocean at the End of the Lane
“Gaiman has crafted an achingly beautiful memoir of an imagination and a spellbinding story that sets three women at the center of everything. . . .[I]t’s a meditation on memory and mortality, a creative reflection on how the defining moments of childhood can inhabit the worlds we imagine.”
— Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, WI)
“His prose is simple but poetic, his world strange but utterly believable—if he was South American we would call this magic realism rather than fantasy.”
— The Times (London) on THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE
“Poignant and heartbreaking, eloquent and frightening, impeccably rendered, it’s a fable that reminds us how our lives are shaped by childhood experiences, what we gain from them and the price we pay.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[A] compelling tale for all ages . . . entirely absorbing and wholly moving.”
— New York Daily News on The Ocean at the End of the Lane
“[A] story concerning the bewildering gulf between the innocent and the authoritative, the powerless and the powerful, the child and the adult. . . . Ocean is a novel to approach without caution; the author is clearly operating at the height of his career.”
— The Atlantic Wire on The Ocean at the End of the Lane
“Ocean has that nearly invisible prose that keeps the focus firmly on the storytelling, and not on the writing. . . . This simple exterior hides something much more interesting; in the same way that what looks like a pond can really be an ocean.”
“This slim novel, gorgeously written, keeps its talons in you long after you’ve finished.”
— New York Post on The Ocean at the End of the Lane
“In Gaiman’s latest romp through otherworldly adventure, a young boy discovers a neighboring family’s supernatural secret. Soon his innocence is tested by ancient, magical forces, and he learns the power of true friendship. The result is a captivating read, equal parts sweet, sad, and spooky.”
— Parade on The Ocean at the End of the Lane
“’The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ is fun to read, filled with his trademarked blend of sinister whimsy. Gaiman’s writing is like dangerous candy—you’re certain there’s ground glass somewhere, but it just tastes so good!”
— Bookish (Houston Chronicle book blog)
“The impotence of childhood is often the first thing sentimental adults forget about it; Gaiman is able to resurrect, with brutal immediacy, the abject misery of being unable to control one’s own life.”
— Laura Miller, Salon
“[W]ry and freaky and finally sad. . . . This is how Gaiman works his charms. . . . He crafts his stories with one eye on the old world, on Irish folktales and Robin Hood and Camelot, and the other on particle physics and dark matter.”
— Chicago Tribune on The Ocean at the End of the Lane
“When I finally closed the last page of this slim volume it was with the realization that I’d just finished one of those uncommon perfect books that come along all too rarely in a reader’s life.”
— Charles DeLint, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction on The Ocean at the End of the Lane
William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062255662, 208pp.
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
About the Author
Neil Gaiman is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of books for children and adults whose award-winning titles include Norse Mythology, American Gods, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), Coraline, and The Sandman graphic novels. Neil Gaiman is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR and Professor in the Arts at Bard College.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
It would be easy to think of the Hempstocks as the “triple goddess” (the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone) of popular mythology. In what ways do they conform to those roles? In what ways are they different?
The narrator has returned to his hometown for a funeral (we never learn whose). Do you think that framing his childhood story with a funeral gives this story a pessimistic outlook, rather than an optimistic one?
Because the narrator is male and most of the other characters are female, this story has the potential to become a stereotypical narrative where a male character saves the day. How does the story avoid that pitfall?
The story juxtaposes the memories of childhood with the present of adulthood. In what ways do children perceive things differently than adults? Do you think there are situations in which a child’s perspective can be more “truthful” than an adult’s?
One of Ursula Monkton’s main attributes is that she always tries to give people what they want. Why is this not always a good thing? What does Ursula want? How does Ursula use people’s desires against them to get what she wants?
Water has many roles in this story—it can give and take life, reveal and hide. How does it play these different roles?
One of the many motivators for the characters in this story is loneliness. What characters seem to suffer from loneliness? How do adults and children respond to loneliness in different ways? In the same ways?
On page 18, the narrator tells us that his father often burnt their toast and always ate it with apparent relish. He also tells us that later in life, his father admitted that he had never actually liked burnt toast, but ate it to avoid waste, and that his father’s confession made the narrator’s entire childhood feel like a lie: “it was as if one of the pillars of belief that my world had been built upon had crumbled into dry sand.” What other “pillars of belief” from childhood does he discover to be false? How do these discoveries affect him? Are there any beliefs from your own childhood that you discovered to be false?
When the narrative returns to the present, Old Mrs. Hempstock tells our narrator, “You stand two of you lot next to each other, and you could be continents away for all it means anything” (p. 173). What does she mean by this? Why is it “easier” for people, our narrator especially, to forget certain things that are difficult to reconcile?
Though the narrator has a sister, he doesn’t seem to be particularly close to her. Why do you think it is that he has trouble relating to other children? Why do you think his sister is not an ally for him?