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The Ocean at the End of the Lane
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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...

Editorial Review :

From Barnes & Noble

"I thought of turning around, then, as i drove down a wide street that had once been a flint lane beside a barley field, of turning back and leaving the past undisturbed, but i was curious." Neil Gaiman's first adult novel in nearly eight years leads us into a farm at the end of the lane, a trio of surreally strange female neighbors, and a mystery that we too cannot ignore. An evocative, lyrical fantasy by a master of the craft. Now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

The Washington Post - Keith Donohue
…marks the return of one of the fantastic mythmakers of our time…Gaiman is a magpie, a maker of collages, creating something new and original out of the bits and pieces of his wide reading of myth and folklore…This is a novel of nostos—that ineffable longing for home, for the sensations and feelings of childhood, when the world was frightening and magical all at once, when anything and everything were possible…The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a small thing with much joy and heartache, sacrifice and friendship, beautifully crafted and as lonesome as the ocean.
Publishers Weekly
“Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later... but they are never lost for good”—and the most grim of those memories, no matter how faint, can haunt one forever, as they do the anonymous narrator of Gaiman’s subtle and splendid modern myth. The protagonist, an artist, returns to his childhood home in the English countryside to recover his memory of events that nearly destroyed him and his family when he was seven. The suicide of a stranger opened the way for a deadly spirit who disguised herself as a housekeeper, won over the boy’s sister and mother, seduced his father, and threatened the boy if he told anyone the truth. He had allies—a warm and welcoming family of witches at the old farm up the road—but defeating this evil demanded a sacrifice he was not prepared for. Gaiman (Anansi Boys) has crafted a fresh story of magic, humanity, loyalty, and memories “waiting at the edges of things,” where lost innocence can still be restored as long as someone is willing to bear the cost. Agent: Merrilee Heifetz, Writers House. (June)
The New York Times Book Review - Benjamin Percy
…Gaiman is especially accomplished in navigating the cruel, uncertain dreamscape of childhood…His mind is a dark fathomless ocean, and every time I sink into it, this world fades, replaced by one far more terrible and beautiful in which I will happily drown.
Kirkus Reviews
From one of the great masters of modern speculative fiction: Gaiman's first novel for adults since Anansi Boys (2005). An unnamed protagonist and narrator returns to his Sussex roots to attend a funeral. Although his boyhood dwelling no longer stands, at the end of the road lies the Hempstock farm, to which he's drawn without knowing why. Memories begin to flow. The Hempstocks were an odd family, with 11-year-old Lettie's claim that their duck pond was an ocean, her mother's miraculous cooking and her grandmother's reminiscences of the Big Bang; all three seemed much older than their apparent ages. Forty years ago, the family lodger, a South African opal miner, gambled his fortune away, then committed suicide in the Hempstock farmyard. Something dark, deadly and far distant heard his dying lament and swooped closer. As the past becomes the present, Lettie takes the boy's hand and confidently sets off through unearthly landscapes to deal with the menace; but he's only 7 years old, and he makes a mistake. Instead of banishing the predator, he brings it back into the familiar world, where it reappears as his family's new housekeeper, the demonic Ursula Monkton. Terrified, he tries to flee back to the Hempstocks, but Ursula easily keeps him confined as she cruelly manipulates and torments his parents and sister. Despite his determination and well-developed sense of right and wrong, he's also a scared little boy drawn into adventures beyond his understanding, forced into terrible mistakes through innocence. Yet, guided by a female wisdom beyond his ability to comprehend, he may one day find redemption. 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.
Charles DeLint
“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.”
Booklist (starred review) on OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE
“Gaiman mines mythological typology--the three-foldgoddess, the water of life (the pond, actually an ocean)--and his own childhood milieu to build the cosmology and theater of a story he tells more gracefully than any he’s told sinceStardust...[a] lovely yarn.”
“This slim novel, gorgeously written, keeps its talons in you long after you’ve finished.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Entirely absorbing and wholly moving...a haunting tale.”
“[W]orthy of a sleepless night . . . a fairy tale for adults that explores both innocence lost and the enthusiasm for seeing what’s past one’s proverbial fence . . . Gaiman is a master of creating worlds just a step to the left of our own.”
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) 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.”
“[A] compelling tale for all ages . . . entirely absorbing and wholly moving.”
“[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.”
Bookish (Houston Chronicle book blog)
“’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!”
Laura Miller

“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.”


“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.”

“Mr. Gaiman labels [his novel] ‘for all ages,’ which is exactly right. It has grief, fear and regret, as well as love and awe-adult emotions, but children feel them too…. [L]ike all Mr. Gaiman’s work, this is fantasy of the very best.”
“[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.”
Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee
“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.”
Library Journal
Gaiman here departs somewhat from his previous books, instead featuring greater emphasis on investigation of the human condition and a more subdued fantasy element. The main character revisits his boyhood, particularly a series of formative events surrounding his friendship with a girl named Lettie Hempstock. The plot rapidly evolves from reminiscent to scary to downright life-threatening, with profound reflections on mortality inherent in the drama. In this ominous environment, seeming evil is explained as a misplaced desire to please, and the ocean at the end of the lane is a liquid knowledge bath transcending space and time that helps rescue the boy. In fact, Lettie is one of the keepers of the ocean, and she and her family represent caretakers who manage the equilibrium of our world and protect the hapless. As we learn the full extent of our narrator's relationship with the Hempstocks, the absolute necessity of the act of forgetting becomes clear. VERDICT Scott Smith's The Ruins meets Astrid Lingren's Pippi Longstocking. A slim and magical feat of meaningful storytelling genius. [See Prepub Alert, 12/16/12.]—Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos Lib., CA
The Barnes & Noble Review

The line between a book for adults and one for children is at the best of times unstable. As a writer, Neil Gaiman's always been playing with it, in one way or another. He has had better luck with the porous border when he tries to write books "for all ages." His books for children, like Coraline, are the kind that you would be happy to see join the other founding myths on a child's shelf, placed next to Narnia or Harry Potter. The skill of that sort of work is to refashion what adults recognize as the enduring story arcs of of legends and fables — beldames, Christ-on-the-cross, father-figure mentors — into something that has a whiff of the contemporary, enough to remind children that these things really could happen.

In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Gaiman is trying to double back once more on the fold. This book for adults has a plot that looks made for children. As the book opens, our now-grown-up narrator is returning to visit his childhood home and finds himself drawn to a nearby farm with a distinctly enchanted quality. He gradually remembers having been involved with the three women, the Hempsteads, who lived there when he was a child of seven. Almost without realizing it, he becomes a central figure in a sort of cosmic battle, between the "old country," to which the women belong, and the new.

The point of conflict is, as in Coraline, the rise of an uncanny, malevolent female taking the place of a nurturing mother. But here the hag figure is more clearly styled a sexual predator, one who threatens the seven-year-old's certainty of his father's goodness. As such Gaiman is attempting the territory of the bildungsroman, with the additional distance of a narrator who is already grown up. And of course, as such, he feels ambivalence about growing up. "I do not miss childhood," he muses at one point, "but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled."

You could say that with this book, Gaiman's most successful attempt at a novel "for adults" to date, he has at last learned that one needn't write so self-consciously about "greater things" to get at them. That, I've always thought, was the problem with his American Gods. Granted, it was a bestseller when it appeared in 2001, but it was a creaky, disjointed one. Weighed down with overcooked mythology, explicit sex, and borrowings from noir, it was a bit too aggressive on the "adult" point to hang together, in a way that suggested insecurity on the author's part. It was like Gaiman, a Brit, was sure he could do the natives one better at making an a grand American fantasy and was throwing everything at the wall to prove it. Or, perhaps, to show that he could invent on an epic scale without borrowing from Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is more like Gaiman's attempt to do Chekhov, to hint at big things by way of small ones. Everything is narrowly conceived, from setting to cast of characters to plot and even to the slim and elegant conception of that "old country." Gaiman wears the narrowness of it surprisingly well, forcing him to be subtle where he's before been a maximalist. For example, because Gaiman's narrator is mostly articulating what he thought and saw at seven years old, he bears only indirect witness to questions of sex and religion. I preferred to gather the sex, somehow, through the way the beldame is seen "hugging [another] from behind." The technique here is not unlike Emma Donoghue's in Room, using a child's blinkers to illuminate the things happening beyond his gaze. It isn't the least bit coy.

That said, Gaiman's control is not perfect: when he abandons indirection, things get a bit shaky. Not every observation fails, of course. At one point the narrator muses,

Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between the fences.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane gets away with generalizations like that because Gaiman is distilling the insights of a child in the language of an adult. And yet the flat psychological understanding of it gets even more explicit as the narrator's observations veer towards literary manifesto:
I liked myths. They weren't adult stories and they weren't children's stories. They were better than that. They just were.

Adult stories never made sense, and they were so slow to start. They made me feel like there were secrets, Masonic, mythic secrets, to adulthood. Why didn't adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?

Setting aside that the formulations are clumsy here, the question too is at best an awkward attempt at irony. Gaiman of all people knows the answer: actually, adults do want to read such stories. In those small moments, I think, Gaiman would be better to follow his character's advice and let his attempts at myth just be. When he does, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is not just very good but cleaves quite close to greatness. It suggests that the process of growing may be learning how those "greater things" the narrator reflects on are entwined with the small things he took pleasure in as a child — much as the pond at the Hempsteads' farm is actually, as one of the women there insist, an ocean.

Michelle Dean is a journalist, critic, and erstwhile lawyer whose writing has appeared at The New Yorker, Slate, The Nation, andThe Awl.

Reviewer: Michelle Dean

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