At not quite six hours long, the story you hear in the audiobook edition of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, written and read by Neil Gaiman, hits you with the focused force of a novella. It’s a powerful evocation of lost childhood innocence, courage, and strength (also the stretchiness of imagination, and what we allow ourselves to know).
The unnamed man narrating the story of a season in his childhood when he was an unhappy, bookish boy of seven, is back in town only briefly, for a funeral, when he drives to the old farmhouse at the end of the long country lane he used to live on. When he walks down to the pond and sits on a bench there, all his memories of this scary but wonderful time in his life come flooding back to him. It was a time when he had a friend, eleven-year-old Lettie Hempstock, who lived at the end of the lane with her old mother and even older grandmother – all women who turn out to have ways of seeing and controlling the underbelly or hidden depths of the world that the adults don’t seem to know about, that before now had only existed in the world of books. A time when a pond could clearly be a simple pond, but somehow also, at the same time, be an entire ocean. A time when a child is granted a glimpse of the old magic that is hidden by the normal world of adults, when a crack appears between the worlds.
Neil Gaiman’s portentous reading and English intonation brings out underlying meanings in the plain words he uses when to write fantasy. I think I enjoyed the simplicity of the story’s language (meant to convey the clear but also confused vision of ordinary life that people have when they are children) more on audio than I would have reading this book in print. It must be difficult to convey the simplicity of a child’s viewpoint throughout an entire book for adults without ending up having written a children’s book. The author succeeds here by having the narrative be an adult’s memory of a childhood time of crisis, so some of what was not understood by the boy himself at the time is understood by the adult who is looking back and by the reader.
From the publisher:
A brilliantly imaginative and poignant fairy tale from the modern master of wonder and terror, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman’s first new novel for adults since his #1 New York Times bestseller Anansi Boys.
Watch and listen to author Neil Gaiman read an excerpt from The Ocean at the End of the Lane here.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Gaiman, Neil, author & narrator
William Morrow, 2013
5.75 hours on 5 CDs
Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook through the public library.
Other opinions of this audiobook (all very good to excellent):
Devourer of Books
The Guilded Earlobe
That’s What She Read