The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

4.1 564
by Neil Gaiman

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Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. 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. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet sitting by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean), the unremembered past comes flooding

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Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. 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. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet sitting by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean), the unremembered past comes flooding back. 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. 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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Editorial Reviews

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.
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.”
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.
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 since Stardust...[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

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Audio CD
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 5.68(h) x 0.78(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2013 Neil Gaiman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-225565-5

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
first book.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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