- Virginia Johnson
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, is a touching blend of family drama and otherworldliness. He wrote it for his wife, who does not care so much for extreme fantasy, and so he decided to include many realistic details from his own childhood. But he enriched that beginning with dark and horrific drama, as well as beauty and wisdom, and ultimately gave it an elemental, magical grounding.
As the book starts, the narrator has come back to his childhood neighborhood. He isn’t sure why he feels pulled there after so many years away, but as he sits on a bench near a pond--a pond someone once convinced him was an ocean, he starts to remember things he hasn’t thought of in a long time. Sad things… and wonderful things.
Nobody came to his 7th birthday party. There was a nice, big cake with a book decoration on it, because he liked books. His sister and her friend sat down a giggled and nibbled for a few minutes, but then they left and he was alone with lots of empty chairs and his new Batman action figure. He was okay with it...mostly. He had learned to be okay with many things, such as his parents renting out his room to a succession of strangers. The latest one was an opal miner from South Africa. When he arrived, his taxi ran over the boy’s beloved kitten. Just an accident, the miner said, and he paid his debt to the boy by giving him a mean, half-wild tomcat. It was the same, wasn’t it? A cat for a cat.
No, it wasn’t, but what could the boy say about it that would make any difference? The grown-ups always did as they pleased. However, the opal miner didn’t stay long and his leave-taking brings about changes in everything--in this world and others.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane debuted on the New York Times’ bestseller list and won the British National Book Award, which is rather a lot of fuss for what starts out as a quiet and unassuming book. But first appearances are deceiving, and so it is with this title. Like the ocean at the end of the lane, it has astonishing and wondrous depths. It is available in print, as an audio CD, and as an eBook.