Gaiman, N. (2013). The ocean at the end of the lane. New York: William Morrow and Company.
Hardcover $25.99, Paperback $14.99, Kindle $7.99, 208 pages
Author’s Website and Interviews:
Annotation: She has been inside me and my thoughts are no longer my own; if I run she will know.
Summary (Warning Spoilers): After the death of an undisclosed relative, the narrator returns to his childhood home and finds himself back at the Hempstock Farm where Lettie, Mrs. Hempstock, and Old Mrs. Hempstock used to live. As he sits by the old duck pond, also known as Lettie’s ocean, his childhood memories come flooding back. When he was seven years old a man commits suicide in his father’s stolen Mini and is discovered at the farm at the end of the lane. He meets Lettie Hempstock, a strange yet welcoming young girl who invites him to stay with her family while police investigate the opal miner’s suicide. Lettie informs the narrator that this man’s death has caused a chain of events that have allowed supernatural entities to cross over into this world and cause havoc on the townspeople. The entity in question appears to give the townspeople what they desire most, money but with dire consequences. That same night the narrator awakes from a dream choking on what appears to be silver shilling. After telling Lettie, they set off together to bind the entity. Lettie instructs the narrator to not let go of her hand but an instinctual reaction causes him to let go and he simultaneously feels a stabbing pain in his foot. When he returns home he discovers a hole in his foot and a worm that appears to be hiding in it. He soon discovers that the worm he removed is his family’s new housekeeper Ursula Monkton, a seductive force that turns the narrator’s family against him, leaving him isolated and afraid. With the help of Lettie and her family, they decide to send Ursula back to where she came from but Ursula resists and is killed by the varmints, creatures Lettie’s grandmother said are sent to clean up messes. When the varmints turn on the narrator, Lettie sacrifices herself and is gravely injured in the process. Her mother and grandmother place her body in her ocean to heal. The narrator has no recollection of what happened after that and the story returns to the present with him sitting near the pond talking to Old Mrs. Hemptstock. She tells him that he has visited the farm on a couple of occasions as an adult yet he doesn’t remember. She informs him this is Lettie’s way of checking up on him as she is still asleep and healing somewhere. As the narrator walks away from the farm, his childhood memories fade away and he tells Old Mrs. Hempstock to give Lettie his regards in Australia.
Evaluation: I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have read it at least three times. I find that I have a different reading experience every time I read it and that I discover new things about the plot or characters that weren’t there before. Gaiman’s writing is beautifully dark and descriptive. I feel like I am inside the narrator’s head living out his childhood memories with him. It has a suspenseful tone and is definitely a page turner. I do not normally like books that leave you with more questions than answers but I think that is the power of this book. It leaves the reader pondering the narrator’s motivations and whether or not his recollections are pure fantasy or reality. Although it is a rather quick read, it does not sacrifice well rounded character development or storyline. The story moves at a fast enough pace to keep you hooked yet it slows down at all the right instances to allow the reader time to absorb what has transpired. The book takes you on a twist and turn journey and you are left emotionally invested in the plight of the narrator and are quickly sucked into his reality, whether you choose to believe it is such or not.
Appeal Factors: Thought provoking, suspenseful, and mystical. Leaves you questioning what is fantasy and what is reality. Extremely descriptive writing which puts you in the mind of the narrator.
Read-alike Titles and Authors:
Among Others by Jo Walton
Perfect by Rachel Joyce
The Light Between Oceans: A Novel, by M.L. Stedman
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Life After Life: A Novel, by Kate Atkinson
2013 Book of the Year in the British National Book Awards
Debuted as #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers list
UK Specsavers National Book Awards, 2013 Book of the Year
- Read a suspenseful scene from the book, could be the scene where the narrator’s father is about to drown him in the bathtub or when Lettie sacrifices herself to the Cleaners and then stop to let the audience process it before reading the big reveal.
- Present the audience with what if scenarios about important scenes from the book. What if the narrator hadn’t removed the worm from his foot? What if the narrator hadn’t let go of Lettie’s hand?
- Ask the audience questions about the narrator’s story as a way to spark interest and get them thinking. Do you believe Lettie and the ocean really exist or is this the narrator’s way of escaping his difficult reality?
Book Discussion Questions:t
1. What is Old Mrs. Hempstock talking about when she refers to the “old country”?
2. How do Lettie, her mom, and grandmother know about the opal miner’s suicide note? They appear to have known his thoughts before his death. What does this reveal about their characters?
3. Why is the narrator of the story never named?
4. Why are there no Hempstock men? What does Lettie’s mom mean when she says “There’s never any keeping them here when the call comes? What call? What if anything does this say about the male characters portrayed in the story (the narrator’s father, the coal miner, etc.)
5. Are Lettie and her mother figments of the narrator’s imagination? Is Old Mrs. Hempstock an embodiment of all three since she tells the narrator at the end that it has always been just her?
6. What does the ocean symbolize to Lettie, to the narrator, to the narrator’s father? Remember the conversation the narrator has with his father about the difference between an ocean and a sea.
7. Lettie tells the narrator that the opal miner’s death “lit a touchpaper.” What does she mean by this?
I stumbled across this book while reading People magazine and it was listed as an editor’s pick. I read the brief description and was instantly hooked. I had to know more about Lettie and her ocean. I am a huge fantasy fiction fan anyways so I didn’t need much arm twisting to read this. I have heard people rave about Neil Gaiman’s work but had never read any of his books before this. The cover of the book also drew me in and left me wanting more. The book came across as haunting and dark and that intrigued me. I love books that take me on an emotional journey whether it be happy or sad, and I had a feeling this book would deliver.