“Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.”
It’s official. I have developed a ‘literary crush’ on Neil Gaiman. He had me at Coraline. After reading The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, I am spellbound for eternity. He is a wizard storyteller and, like in The Pied Piper Of Hamelin, I follow at his heels to the sound of his voice, mesmerized by the lyrical quality of his effortless prose, entranced by the intimate perspective and mournful tones of a bookish and nameless seven-year-old narrator.
In occasion of a funeral service, a middle-aged man returns to his childhood hometown in Sussex. Nothing in the English countryside looks like he remembered – his old house long gone. But as he drives down the narrow lane that connects his childhood home to a farmhouse at the end of the road, faded memories come flooding back to him: an unlikely family of three kind women (the eleven-year-old Lettie, her mother Ginnie, and her grandmother Old Mrs. Hempstock) living on that farm, the duck pond his ‘strange’ friend Lettie claimed was an ocean that stretched from forever to forever, and yet small enough to fit in a bucket, the bizarre and incomprehensible events that unfolded forty years earlier on the edge of that land “where the barriers between life and death were thin”.
Part dark fairy tale, part myth, Gaiman’s narrative texture appeals to our primal self, our unstructured and buried ‘child soul’. His highly imaginative tale is a powerful and moving metaphor of the distance existing between two different dimensions, two separate worlds: childhood and adulthood. Self-absorbed and distracted, grown-ups are deaf to their children’s fears and insecurities, oblivious to the undeniable fact that while outside they are big, powerful and thoughtless, “inside they are really children wrapped in adult bodies, like children’s books hidden in the middle of dull, long adult books, the kind with no pictures or conversations.” As in Coraline, Gaiman’s popular fantasy novella published in 2002 and adapted into a stop-motion picture (Focus Features, 2009), in The Ocean At The End Of The Lane adults seem to be, once again, unhelpful and clueless, blind to the hidden and true essence of reality, completely unable to empathize with their kids’ uneasiness and struggles. “Adults follow paths. Children explores”, our nameless young narrator (Gaiman’s alter-ego or Everyman of a morality play, intentionally devoid, by the author, of any mark of individuality) acutely observes. While choosing to never step off the beaten path, grown-ups miss all the patterns, the gates, and the backways hiding beyond the real. To a child’s heart, instead, with its refined sensitivity and innate curiosity, this big and complicated world becomes simple and easy to grasp, enjoyable in its small joys even when greater things crumble down.
Of those ‘greater things’, hidden and sinister truths, our protagonist will become fully aware under the wise guidance and selfless protection of the Hampstock women, wonderful and timeless creatures, Maiden, Mother, and Crone (triple deity common to several pagan traditions), archetype of maternal warmth and symbol of an ancient matriarchal society.
The Verdict: Brilliant and enchanting! An absolute gem.
Release Date: June 18, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow
Author: Neil Gaiman