reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review #41 The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I read this book on holiday several weeks back. It was a lovely story that I imagine can be sliced and diced and analyzed, which is something I don’t do well. The narrator is a middle-aged man who has returned to the area he grew up in for a funeral. In a paragraph he sums up his adult life: divorced, two-kids, not dating, work is fine. He has a bit of time and drives back to the house he grew up in and the Hempstock’s farmhouse.

As he sits at the farmhouse he remembers events that started with his 7th birthday. He is a lonely child, not one of his classmates comes to his birthday party. He finds solace in books and in his new kitten. I’ve not read Gaiman’s children’s books, but this is a childhood with plenty of darkness, where adults cannot be trusted and his sister delights in being mean to him. His parents have some financial difficulties which cause them to take in a boarder, who has run over his kitten. Shortly thereafter he and his father find the border dead of a suicide.This leads him to the nearby Hempstock home where Lettie and her mother comfort and care for him. Weird things start to happen, like coins appearing in inappropriate places, but the farm becomes a refuge, Lettie and her mum and gran have a magic world that begins and ends within the confines of the farm.

Things get scarier when the narrator’s family takes on a young beautiful housekeeper named Ursula Monkton. The attractive housekeeper torments him, seduces his father and is also a monster from another world that only he can see. His father’s behavior becomes monstrous and it is all that he can do to escape the wickedness that is growing in his household.  The Hempstock farm is his refuge, Lettie, Ginnie,her mother and her gran are imbued with magic, they appear to be ageless, having been around since perhaps the beginning of time.

Are his memories real?  Did he really grow up amongst magic, or was it his child’s imagination? When he asks “is it true” Mrs. Hempstock answers: “Different people remember things differently, and you’ll not get any two people to remember anything the same whether they were there or not.” I suspect this to be true of the book too, there is so much and so little that happens in this little story that I suspect we all remember it a little differently.

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