The Ocean at the End of the Laneby Neil Gaiman
A major new work from "a writer to make readers rejoice" (Minneapolis Star Tribune)—a moving story of memory, magic, and survival
Sussex, England. 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/p>/em>… See more details below
A major new work from "a writer to make readers rejoice" (Minneapolis Star Tribune)—a moving story of memory, magic, and survival
Sussex, England. 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, 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.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
A groundbreaking work from a master, 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. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.
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The Ocean at the End of the Lane
By Neil Gaiman
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2013 Neil Gaiman
All rights reserved.
Nobody came to my seventh birthday party.
There was a table laid with jellies and trifles, with a party hat
beside each place, and a birthday cake with seven candles on it in the
center of the table. The cake had a book drawn on it, in icing. My
mother, who had organized the party, told me that the lady at the
bakery said that they had never put a book on a birthday cake before,
and that mostly for boys it was footballs or spaceships. I was their
When it became obvious that nobody was coming, my mother
lit the seven candles on the cake, and I blew them out. I ate a slice of
the cake, as did my little sister and one of her friends (both of them
attending the party as observers, not participants) before they fled,
giggling, to the garden.
Party games had been prepared by my mother but, because
nobody was there, not even my sister, none of the party games were
played, and I unwrapped the newspaper around the pass-the-parcel
gift myself, revealing a blue plastic Batman figure. I was sad that
nobody had come to my party, but happy that I had a Batman figure,
and there was a birthday present waiting to be read, a boxed set of
the Narnia books, which I took upstairs. I lay on the bed and lost
myself in the stories.
I liked that. Books were safer than other people anyway.
10 Neil Gaiman
My parents had also given me a Best of Gilbert and Sullivan LP, to
add to the two that I already had. I had loved Gilbert and Sullivan
since I was three, when my father's youngest sister, my aunt, took me
to see Iolanthe, a play filled with lords and fairies. I found the existence
and nature of the fairies easier to understand than that of the lords.
My aunt had died soon after, of pneumonia, in the hospital.
That evening my father arrived home from work and he brought
a cardboard box with him. In the cardboard box was a soft-haired
black kitten of uncertain gender, whom I immediately named Fluffy,
and which I loved utterly and wholeheartedly.
Fluffy slept on my bed at night. I talked to it, sometimes, when
my little sister was not around, half-expecting it to answer in a
human tongue. It never did. I did not mind. The kitten was affec-
tionate and interested and a good companion for someone whose
seventh birthday party had consisted of a table with iced biscuits and
a blancmange and cake and fifteen empty folding chairs.
I do not remember ever asking any of the other children in my
class at school why they had not come to my party. I did not need
to ask them. They were not my friends, after all. They were just the
people I went to school with.
I made friends slowly, when I made them.
I had books, and now I had my kitten. We would be like Dick
Whittington and his cat, I knew, or, if Fluffy proved particularly in-
telligent, we would be the miller's son and Puss-in-Boots. The kitten
slept on my pillow, and it even waited for me to come home from
school, sitting on the driveway in front of my house, by the fence,
until, a month later, it was run over by the taxi that brought the opal
miner to stay at my house.
I was not there when it happened.
I got home from school that day, and my kitten was not waiting
The Ocean at the End of the Lane 11
to meet me. In the kitchen was a tall, rangy man with tanned skin
and a checked shirt. He was drinking coffee at the kitchen table, I
could smell it. In those days all coffee was instant coffee, a bitter
dark brown powder that came out of a jar.
“I'm afraid I had a little accident arriving here,” he told me,
cheerfully. “But not to worry.” His accent was clipped, unfamiliar: it
was the first South African accent I had heard.
He, too, had a cardboard box on the table in front of him.
“The black kitten, was he yours?” he asked.
“It's called Fluffy,” I said.
“Yeah. Like I said. Accident coming here. Not to worry. Dis-
posed of the corpse. Don't have to trouble yourself. Dealt with the
matter. Open the box.”
He pointed to the box. “Open it,” he said.
The opal miner was a tall man. He wore jeans and checked shirts
every time I saw him, except the last. He had a thick chain of pale
gold around his neck. That was gone the last time I saw him, too.
I did not want to open his box. I wanted to go off on my own.
I wanted to cry for my kitten, but I could not do that if anyone else
was there and watching me. I wanted to mourn. I wanted to bury my
friend at the bottom of the garden, past the green-grass fairy ring,
into the rhododendron bush cave, back past the heap of grass cut-
tings, where nobody ever went but me.
The box moved.
“Bought it for you,” said the man. “Always pay my debts.”
I reached out, lifted the top flap of the box, wondering if this
was a joke, if my kitten would be in there. Instead a ginger face stared
up at me truculently.
The opal miner took the cat out of the box.
12 Neil Gaiman
He was a huge, ginger-striped tomcat, missing half an ear. He
glared at me angrily. This cat had not liked being put in a box. He
was not used to boxes. I reached out to stroke his head, feeling un-
faithful to the memory of my kitten, but he pulled back so I could
not touch him, and he hissed at me, then stalked off to a
Excerpted from The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Copyright © 2013 Neil Gaiman. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, and is the recipient of numerous literary honors. Originally from England, he now lives in America.
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Date of Birth:
- November 10, 1960
- Place of Birth:
- Portchester, England
- Attended Ardingly College Junior School, 1970-74, and Whitgift School, 1974-77
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Over the course of his career, author Neil Gaiman has delighted readers with his storytelling abilities. His almost childlike sensibilities have allowed him to reach audiences through various mediums, spanning from comic books to more traditional children and adult literature. With his latest adult novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, he explores a dark story with enough whimsy and emotion to attract readers of all tastes. The novel begins with a forty something year old man returning to the small English town where he grew up. His old home has long been demolished, but he is drawn instead to a dilapidated farmhouse at the end of the lane. When he arrives there, he begins to reflect on his childhood and the dark events that occurred at the place. He was only seven years old when it began. A quiet boy, more at home with his nose in a book than playing with other children, he was an outcast within his own family. We learn that the family is struggling with money. They decide to move him from his own room to bunk with his sister, leaving an empty bed to rent out. With the arrival of the renter, a mysterious opal miner, dark events begin to occur. The boy meets the three generations of Hempstock women who run the farm at the end of the lane. Lettie Hempstock, who claims to have been eleven years old for a very long time, immediately entrances the boy with her enchanting way with words and conviction that the pond that rests at the very end of the lane is actually an ocean. She agrees to allow him to tag along as she takes a trip to an odd place that lies somewhere between this world and the next. Upon their return from the strange place, an evil is released. Following the untimely death of the mysterious opal miner, this evil takes the form of a menacing nanny, who takes up residence at the boy's home. With the help of the Hempstock women, the boy must vanquish the evil while learning the true meaning of sacrifice. Neil Gaiman is known for his delightfully dark, whimsical fairytales. This novel is no exception. At its heart, this is a coming of age story that beautifully depicts the fun, confusion, magic, and sacrifice of growing up. Gaiman makes these sometimes difficult realities more accessible through his imaginative characters, situations, and pacing. The novel is completely engrossing, begging to be read in a single sitting. With an ending that is both poignant and satisfying, readers of all ages should definitely follow Gaiman to the end of the lane.
It was a surprise when I first saw the book, not because of its appealing tittle but because of it's length. I had come into the book expecting a long novel, what with such an intriguing tittle and all. Now that I finished The Ocean at the End of the Lane I am even more surprised that I could find so much in such few pages. I often found myself at mid-sentence, lost in my own thoughts and an endless stream of ideas an reflections that spurred from something I had read in the book that caught my mind. Never in the countless books I have read have I come across the feeling I got with this book. The pages contain a feel of wisdom about our existence that catch you unprepared yet leave you no choice but to follow stop and reflect even at the most trivial things. It was a beautiful experience that I highly recommend.
After reading Gaimans other novels, I was excited to hear of this new one. It's on the short end of the scale for a novel, length wise, but incredible nonetheless. From the wonders and possibilities of childhood, to the adult elements, I found the prose just as magical as the story. I look forward to whatever Mr. Gaiman can dream up next.
From start to finish, this was an amazing story. I expect nothing less from Gaiman. I loved it so much, in fact, I'm re-reading it right now.
This is the first Neil Gaiman book I've had the pleasure of reading. And what a pleasure it was! This story has great mystery that keeps you turning the pages. The characters are well developed and I loved the plot.
A world you'll get lost in, willingly. worth all the hype his books always seem to garner. You could read it in one sitting, huddled under a blanket, by flashlight.
I really want to like Neil Gaiman's work...I really do. But every time I read his works I come away feeling like something is missing. American Gods left me puzzled and confused and to a certain degree angry. Ocean, however was a better experience, but you are left with more questions than answers and somehow I get the feeling that is his aim. Bad luck for me I'm not the kind of reader entertained by such devices. So I'm leave it at this, if you love Gaiman, you'll love this. If you hate Gaiman, you'll hate this and if you have never read him before, he's definitely a modern classic writer for all the good and bad of it but still worth a try.
Sometimes, a book comes along that is quite different than everything else you read. This is that book. It's a small book, one that I read in a couple sittings, and really, I wouldn't have it any other way. Becuase for those several hours in my life, I was somehwere else. Rarely can a book capture hot only your interest, but your heart, your spirit. All too easy we forget what it's like to be young and innocent. A time when believing comes naturally. There aren't apt words to describe this book, but I'll try anyways. This book is mystical, and heart-warming, and so much more. It brought me back into my childhood, when life was simpler. If you haven't read this book, read it...now. If you're weary to spend this much money on a pretty small book, I do understand, but I can tell you sometimes the money does not compare to the experiecne you get. This book is simply magical, and I got reccomend it enough.
This was my first Neil Gaiman novel, and will likely be my last. I just did not like this book at all. It's marketed as an adult fantasy novel, but it's novella length and read like a children's story. The narration was flat and I never connected with or even liked any of the characters. I wish things in the story had been explained; I left the novel feeling like I didn't know any more about what had occurred than I did during it. If it hadn't been so short, I'd never have been able to finish it.
I guess this is for fans of Mr Gaiman's work, but as my first experience, it left me shaking my head. I didn't know anything about the book, just took a chance based on praises from readers, but this wasn't my style. Bizarre, weird, and more like a fairy tale or a nightime story, this mercifully short book felt more like a chore than a good beach read. Sorry I didn't like it as much as his fans.
This book was definitely not worth the money. It left me with more questions than answers and was disappointingly anticlimactic. Not sure what the point of the story was.
Fantasy at it's best. Lovely little story about a 7 yr old boy and his new friend who lives at the end of the lane and whose pond is actually an ocean. Will not give away any of the story but it is charming. Very quick read too!
Love the writing! Wish this story were longer so I could keep reading. My new favorite author.
I bought this book after the salesperson told me it had been on the best seller list for months. While the writing is quite good, the subject matter leaves a great deal to be desired. I kept reading it to the end, not because I was enjoying it, but because I was hoping there would be some substance and interest to it. As other reviewers wrote, I can't believe it's been on the best seller list at all, much less for such a long time.
This is the best fantasy I've read since the Harry Potter series.
This is an amazing read - First time I read Neil Gaiman - Enjoyed and will read more of his work. So many different places you can go as you read this - great mix of what is real, what is dream, what is imagination....
Absolutely beautiful. Gaiman's style is reminiscent of George MacDonald, but definitely a bit more modern. This is the 3rd of Gaiman's novels I have read, and it left me with that joyous ache in my heart that I would get when I read Lewis, Tolkien, or MacDonald as a child; that ache for another world of sorts. A really beautiful story. :)
This was my first encounter with Neil Gaiman, and I have to say: I was mesmerized! Gaiman’s voice is poetry with teeth. Here, he creates a world of horror laced with starry magic and vast possibilities. Our unnamed narrator is a 40-something man returning to the strange and gossamer memories of an event that occurred when he was a boy of seven. Back then, magic creeps into his life after an opal miner commits suicide down the lane from his house, effectively stirring the attention of a dark force beyond the earthly borders of existence. This force wants to feed greed and slowly poison humanity from the inside out. But for all the conspiring darkness in creation, there is also light: Meet Lettie, the mysterious girl who lives at the end of the lane, she’s eleven and has been for a very long time. She’s the embodiment of childhood wisdom, both spritely and serious, and she can see all the mind-blowing layers of existence. One might be tempted to call her a witch, but the powers stirring inside her are grander and more ancient that any pagan or human civilization; indeed, Lettie—along with her mother and grandmother, old Mrs. Hempstock, who was around for the Big Bang—harnesses the energy of creation itself. Take, for instance, that pond behind the Hempstock’s farmhouse: shhhh, it’s really an ocean. It’s what they used to cross into our world and it’s what connects them to a realm that is closer to heaven than to earth. For them the moon is always full. They have fields that grow kittens like carrots! And yet they remain grounded, they are cozy and welcoming, and eating their warm porridge with blackberry jam is as much a comfort to our narrator as the magic they swathe him in. So, when he wakes up one morning choking on a magic coin and goes to the Hempstocks for help, it feels quite natural for him to hold Lettie’s hand and follow her through the trees and wilds into a world of unadulterated imagination, a world of soul awakening. Neither he nor Lettie expect anything to go wrong. When they encounter the aforementioned dark force, Lettie sings strange words to bind the wonderfully creepy, grey-and-pink rag-like creature from doing any more harm. This beguiling scene sets the tone for the entire tale, for the words Lettie summons are the first language, and anything spoken in this language becomes real. How cool is that? This concept speaks to me as a reader/writer. I believe that language is what makes us human, I like to believe there is a reason why story-telling feels universal with a capital-U. So, the idea that language is intimately linked to Creation electrified me with possibilities. Of course, there’s more to this story than just that, and Lettie’s song does not go as expected. A piece of the darkness cunningly hitches a ride home on our narrator—disguised as an eerie little worm burrowed in his heel! Yep, in a delightful scene not for the squeamish, our narrator reels the parasite out of his foot and drops it down the drain…only to have the darkness reappear in the form of our narrator’s new nanny. The whole family is under her spell, and only our narrator and the Hemstocks can see beyond the monster’s disguise. The Hempstocks, especially Lettie, are determined to send the darkness back where it came from, but in a brilliant twist, childhood realities and childhood magic come head to head. Because while the Hempstocks powers can snip and mend the very fabric of space and time, space and time still contains human rules and expectations, more specifically those of the parent. As a child of seven, small and powerless on his own, our narrator is steered by the will of his father. A father who, once a good man, has fallen under the spell of the new nanny and wants only what she wants: to contain and/or kill the boy who is actively trying to thwart her. (SPOILERS:) Never fear—even as the darkness creeps and conspires, even as the father prepares the bathtub for drowning and the nanny seems to have won—because every child deserves a hero and Lettie is not about to let our narrator come to harm…even if this means summoning the aid of birdlike monsters who are bigger, meaner, and who (after eating up the nanny along with her spell over this world) ultimately corner our terrified (but brave) narrator in the fairy circle in his backyard. He has something they want, something the worm left inside him: a portal in his heart that leads to the place beyond the ocean, a place he cannot be allowed free passage to, and the only way to rid him of it is to rip out his heart. Wow, what a metaphor for the way real life (adult life) can tarnish the magic of childhood, making it impossible for us to ever go back. Except in this story, it is possible. Because Lettie means it when she promises to keep our narrator safe, and she defends him with her life. Literally. Well almost. This is, after all, a tale where anything is possible. To parallel the beauty of Lettie’s ancient language incantation at the beginning, at the end we finally see the wonder of her ocean. After snipping and mending the moment of the narrator’s death into the moment of her own, Lettie’s body is returned to the pond and the placid waters become crashing waves. They wash Lettie away, swallowing her—and for a moment our narrator—back into the womb of creation. Lettie has yet to return from that place, but our narrator, despite the overwhelming desire to stay and lose himself into the wholeness of it all, is made to live his life. As he leaves the Hempstock farm that final day when he was seven, the magic of what happened to him fades from his mind, but always lingers in his heart. As he grows older he returns to the Hemstock farm from time to time, feeling drawn, feeling curious, a part of him wanting to find Lettie and know that her sacrifice wasn’t in vain, that he is living a life worthy of her. Though she had yet to return, she will one day, and so he comes and goes, grows and lives, forgets the truth only to return to it again and again. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was an experience in magic so convincing and so fluid from scene to scene, moment to moment, that finishing it was like waking from a dream where, for just a heartbeat, the mysteries of the universe were known to me. What an extraordinary introduction to an extraordinary author! I will definitely be reading more Gaiman. Best Lines: “I have dreamed of that song, of the strange words to that simple rhyme-song, and on several occasions I have understood what she was saying, in my dreams. In those dreams I spoke that language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie.” “How can you be happy in this world? You have a hole in your heart. You have a gateway inside you to lands beyond the world you know. They will call you, as you grow. There can never be a time when you forget them, when you are not, in your heart, questioning after something you cannot have, something you cannot even properly imagine, the lack of which will spoil your sleep and your day and your life, until you close your eyes for the final time...” “The second thing I thought was that I knew everything. Lettie Hempstock’s ocean flowed inside me, and it filled the entire universe, from Egg to Rose. I knew that. I knew what Egg was—where the universe began, to the sound of uncreated voices singing in the void—and I knew where Rose was—the peculiar crinkling of space on space into dimensions that fold like origami and blossom like strange orchids, and which would mark the last good time before the eventual end of everything and the next Big Bang, which would be, I knew now, nothing of the kind. I knew that Old Mrs. Hempstock would be here for that one, as she had been for the last.” “I found myself thinking of the ocean running beneath the whole universe, like the dark seawater that laps beneath the wooden boards of an old pier: an ocean hat stretches from forever to forever to forever and is still small enough to fit inside a bucket, if you have Old Mrs. Hempstock to help you, and you ask nicely.” “Nothing is ever the same. Be it a second later or a hundred years. It’s always churning and rolling. And people change as much as oceans.”
Another Neil Gaiman winner; at just over 150 pages (Nook), MR. Gaiman has produced a world that is so unique as to enthrall me like a fairy tale did when I was young. It left me wanting oceans more.
Great read. Wish it lasted longer!
I have read many of Neil Gaiman's books. They are often jarring and thought-provoking, but this one felt real. I guess it resonated with me. It's one of those books you have to stop and think about after you've read it, because it was so true and the real world can't be just yet. So yeah, basically, kudos to a book well-written.
"I would love to be your mate.." she smiled
He also writes for the TV series Dr. Who. Some of the best stories of the modern era of the show were written gy Neil Gaiman.
Perspective can be an elusive prospect. One can “lose” perspective for any number of reasons; perspectives shift with new information or points-of-view, a new perspective will arise on occasion – seemingly of its own accord. Neil Gaiman is a master of using the slippery nature of perspective to create a story that is, at once, vastly expansive and impossibly intimate. He shows this talent at its finest in this physically small, but literarily massive, novel. A man in his forties returns to his childhood home for the funeral of a close family member. He journeys, lured by smoky memories, to the Hempstock Farmstead, a place he knew in his childhood but had forgotten until he is standing beside “the ocean.” His recalling of how he met the members of Hempstock farm and what caused that meeting to occur is the story of this book. To detail the plot would be to undermine: the experience of living the book, the recalling of the fun and danger of being a child and the validation of what was under your bed after the lights were turned off really did exist. This is not a horror book. It is more a book of myths played out in present day. The tension the reader may experience in reading is rooted in the memories of “almost” seeing the “bad thing” in the closet as we were trying to go to sleep. Those memories are balanced by the comfort in knowing that there was always someone nearby who would make the dark places safe. Those “almost” creatures who lived just beyond our perception, seen only as void or in the motion they create in passing are the most frightening, having a friend who can define those fears and lend us courage enough to face them bring to mind the friends who will never leave our lives. Such is the depth and color of this novel. The hero finds such a person in Lettie Hempstock. There is much religion within these pages - Celtic Myths are present, pagan practices are evident, the “new” religion lurks in the corners and the dynamics of a curious mind offer a flavor of creativity that is near a practice of faith. The Ocean comes to represent the timelessness of Life (an event that spurred the language of religion and spiritual practices) and the author paints such a vivid picture of that encounter it comes near to stealing this reader’s breath; “I felt the coldness of the water – if it was water – pour into my nose and my throat, felt it fill my lungs, but that was all it did. It did not hurt me. “I thought, This is the kind of water you can breathe. I thought, Perhaps, there is a secret to breathing water, something simple that everyone could do, if only they knew. Lettie Hempstock’s ocean flowed inside me, and it filled the entire universe, . . . ” (p. 142-3). The brilliance of this book is found in its ability to pull the reader into a world that began when we were children and allows us to hold those cherished days close once again. The book plows into areas of the reader’s mind that were allowed to become fallow because adults “know better” than to believe “such rubbish,” waters the seeds found there and cause the flowers of our childhood to blossom again. A delightful walk in a beautiful meadow is thereby created.
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars I honestly didn’t know how I was going to react to this mainly because I have never finished a Neil Gaiman book (I know, blasphemy!). But, I have to say that I really enjoyed reading this. First, for an adult fantasy book, the protagonist is a child and Neil Gaiman does a wonderful job of portraying the story from a child’s point of view. There are some moments in the book (I don’t want to write spoilers) where the content is really ”adult” and we, as readers, are able to pick up on it based on the innocent observation of our main character. I think that alone speaks for Neil’s writing abilities. As for the book itself, it is really short and it’s really engrossing. I started reading it out of guilt (since I have a stack of books that I’ve been neglecting due to studying and other obligations) and I couldn’t put it down until I was done reading. It is extremely well-written and it’s very easy to get lost in his words and the story that he tells. The best part is that, even though this book is fantasy, it doesn’t shove the fantasy elements into your face (does that make sense!?) which I love since fantasy is one of the harder genres to get into since you have to familiarize yourself with the world first. The ending was very bittersweet. Our protagonist returns to his homeland and all the events that are related to his adventure is given “adult” explanations that make perfect sense. He goes to see Lettie (I am holding back tears and resisting the urge to rant) and, while reading, I swear I was about to cry and not for a good reason. Personally, I thought that Neil Gaiman picked a perfect ending. Granted it’s not your typical happily-ever-after but I thought that it suited the story very well. I had to chop off half a star though mainly because I thought the way the climax was handled was way too convenient. I personally hated the antagonist and thought that she was a perfect villain and the way that she was ultimately defeated and how the story ended disappointed me. Overall, a great book to read and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read it. Best of all, it’s in a small, digestible chunk so you can be sure that you won’t have to wait long to finish it.