“His prose is simple but poetic, his world strange but utterly believable – if he was South American we would call this magic realism rather than fantasy” – Times London
I had been awaiting Neil Gaiman’s new book as an Alice would await her rabbit hole. When it finally arrived, I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed – it is a story with an easing collision of fantasy and realism armed with a protagonist and his right to blur the sanctimonious line.
‘The ocean at the end of the lane’ follows the narrative of a seven year old boy as he discovers the strangeness of an adult world. The element of fantasy in the book is hence dissolved, and dissolved beautifully through the window of childhood.
The story starts with the narrator and his father discovering the suicide of an opal miner who had been lodging in their house. Upon inspection, it is clear that the lodger had gassed himself on the exhaust fumes by locking himself in their car.
The suicide unleashes a series of dreadful forces pushing onto the world of the child, starting with a strange coin that lodges itself in his throat while he’s sleeping. As the plot unfolds, the family remains oblivious to it all.
On the other side of this scale of oblivion is the Hempstock family. The Hempstocks live on a farm at the end of the lane which serves as the hub for maximum action. Lettie Hempstock, her mother and her grandmother seem to have been living there for ages, the Grandmother old as the Big Bang itself. They present themselves in the light of soothing magic, ready to rid the child of his fears. Lettie is also the owner of a pond which she claims is a vast ocean separating the other world.
As the boy tells Lettie about the coin, she discovers the larger plot at hand and takes the boy away to a curious parallel world of magic wands and monsters. While there the by gets infected by a worm which finds its way into his foot. Once back, the boy removes the worm from beneath his skin only to have it manifest back as ‘Ursula’ the beautiful babysitter.
A ‘nanny’, to any child is an object of suspicion, an intruder who doesn’t fit in the scheme of things and an enforcer of evil tyranny. Neil Gaiman has painted a magnificent portrait of the gripping fear. The novel takes you back to some things you feared the most as a child- when the world seemed too big for your beady eyes and tiny games. It addresses the conspiracies that were afoot, things we saw, knew and forgot or told no one.
Neil Gaiman adds more perspective to the book and makes his world a tad scarier by excluding the mother from several scenes, and by adding an angry dimension to an otherwise loving father. He preserves the normality of the family and proceeds to write in everyday scenes even as the turmoil rages on. Food features quite regularly in the book and one is reminded of those early reads of secret seven or famous five. Throughout the book, the author draws on the differences between the adult world and its predecessor, and in the end you are left wondering as you stare at that line between reality and fantasy smudged so beautifully by a child.
Neil Gaiman has made it wonderful to walk all those childhood whimsies as an adult.
Overall Rating: 9/10
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