The Ocean at the End of the Laneis Neil Gaiman’s most recent book for adults. It begins with a middle aged man (who is never named) visiting his rural home town for the first time in years to attend a funeral. While there, he stops by the farm of an old childhood friend, and memories of the magical and dangerous time he spent with that friend come rushing back. Most of the book is these memories, with occasional commentary from the present-day narrator. The trouble starts when the man renting a room in the narrator’s house drives the family’s car to the farm at the end of the road and commits suicide. At that farm, the narrator meets Lettie Hempstock and her magical family. The renter’s death somehow released an evil spirit from another dimension that causes all sorts of problems for the narrator and his family. The book follows the narrator and Lettie’s attempts to send the spirit back where it came, culminating with Lettie sacrificing herself to save the narrator. Lettie does not truly die, but becomes somehow imbued into the pond on her family’s farm. The narrator returns to present day, where he talks to Lettie’s grandmother at the farm. The narrator returns to the farm every decade or so (for Lettie to evaluate whether it was worth sacrificing her life for hers), remembers the past, and then returns to his real life and forgets all about it again.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane fits the basic definition of fantasy. Magic is an integral part of the story, and the it appeals more to emotions than intellect. There is a decent amount of world building, but it is not particularly believable because of the lack of detail. There is a basic good vs evil struggle, though it’s argued in the book that the evil is not truly evil (but rather just following its nature). There is a melancholy tone throughout, even though the evil is conquered in the end. There are interesting characters and rich scenery, though the book is not long and not part of a series.
This was a novel that read like a short story. Very little was explained, and I was often confused about the nature of the magic and the evil spirit and such. I think this was done intentionally to create a certain feeling, but it really frustrated me. The whole novel is dark and at times rather disturbing. At the same time, it often feels like a book written for a younger audience because of the age of the protagonist (7) and the simplicity of the writing style. I would have preferred if the story were either an actual short story, or a more detailed, longer novel
In terms of genre, this book often feels more like a horror novel than fantasy. I think it would appeal to fans of both who are willing to try something a bit different. It would also probably appeal to readers of short stories.