The book opens with its unnamed narrator returning to his childhood home in Sussex, England for a funeral. He finds his way to the farm down the road from his old house and remembers Lettie Hempstock, the girl who used to live there. As he sits in front of Lettie’s “ocean” (a pond on the property), the narrator remembers a fantastical adventure with Lettie where the two fight a dangerous monster taking the shape of the narrator’s family’s new tenant.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a very fast, light read, which holds the reader’s attention from beginning to end. There are many strong female characters to be found in this novel, with most of them staying with the reader long after the book has been closed. Neil Gaiman’s brilliant writing shines through, providing both unease when dealing with the monster and comfortable nostalgia when describing the narrator’s childhood home and the Hempstock farm, both of which provide evocative images of the English countryside.
This is a fantasy book I would suggest for those who do not often read fantasy. The magic is minimal and the adventure important, yet contained, feeling like a story straight from a child’s imagination. This book is wonderful in that it encapsulates all the wonder (and fear) of childhood without losing anything of adulthood, or alternately, takes adulthood without losing any of the wonder of childhood. Overall, Gaiman has managed to write a children’s book for adults, leaving the reader feeling nostalgic for childhood bedtime stories, but without feeling patronized.