Wistful. That’s the one word that comes to mind when I look back at how I felt when reading Neil Gaiman‘s “Ocean at the End of the Lane”.
This is a story about memories and longing, and about dreams and nightmares. This is a story about the quintessential battle between good and evil, about the Hempstock women and Ursula Monkton.
But mostly, this book is about an ocean, Lettie Hempstock and a young man, whose lost memories of a past time, place and person, draws him back to the ocean that saved his childhood.
Ocean at the End of the Lane takes you through the magical childhood that one young boy (who appears to be reticent with his family but is surprisingly open with his readers) experiences through a series of strange events that tickled my imagination dark.
As this is not in the strictest sense a book review, let me give you a glimpse into the wild but warm impressions that this short story has left on me.
The ocean at the end of the lane, for its surprisingly diminutive size in the book, has an all-pervading presence throughout the book. The ocean is where shockingly dark things emerge from, and it also where the dark departs to. It’s a source of turmoil as much as it is a bed of calm. It’s where the imagination takes birth and where it can stay suspended. It’s Lettie Hempstock’s ocean and she shares it with this young boy. I will let you explore and slowly unravel the why and how of it as you step into the book and wade slowly into this gentle ocean.
What struck me most powerfully is that for the wretchedly evil Ursula Monkton, who gradually grew on me for her wiles and willfulness, there is the equally powerful Hempstock women. Where Ursula gives the impression of being a grey and hungry single-minded force, the Hempstock women beautifully counter her with their independent, strong, imaginative and gentle nature that exudes warmth on a cold and dreary landscape.
It’s this warmth that I’m happy to take from this book just as much as the surprising little jolt that Neil Gaiman’s wild grown-up imagination with undertones of a child’s experience of it, has brought to the narrative. It’s truly wistful.