The narrator of Neil Gaiman’s latest novel, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, lives in a large old house in a small rural town. His neighbour, Lettie Hempstock, is a girl who lives with her mother and grandmother. Lettie seems to be eleven years old, but there is something about her that sometimes makes her seem as old as the world.
The boy first meets her when a man who has been renting a room in his house is found dead in the fields behind Lettie’s house. Lettie takes him to her house while the police investigate the murder. Somehow, Lettie’s family knows that the man has committed suicide, and what his suicide note says. He has lost all his money gambling, and that is why he has taken this extreme step.
The boy goes back to his house and gets on with his regular life. Until one night, he wakes up with a weird choking feeling in his throat. He reaches into his mouth, finds something and pulls it out. It is a coin, and a very old coin at that. Sensing that Lettie is the only person who can help him understand what has happened, he goes to her house. It turns out that money is turning up mysteriously in a lot of places, in ways that wind up causing more harm than good. Lettie explains that the ghost of the dead man has made a deal with a spirit, trying to make up for its gambling losses by giving people money to try and make them happy.
The boy and Lettie go to confront the spirit; Lettie warns him not to let go of her hand, but he does at one point. Still, the spirit seems to be defeated.
A woman named Ursula Monkton is brought into his household as a nanny for the boy and his sister. Ursula seems like a nice young woman to everyone but the boy, who sees a dark, sinister side to her.
The boy, his family and the town around them are in the grip of a very sinister force. The mysterious Hempstock women are the only people who might be able to figure out what is going on and set things right. But, as Ursula influences the boy’s father and makes him prevent the boy from leaving their property, will he be able to get word to Lettie before it is too late?
I won’t give away any more of the plot of this book, but I will tell you that it is shot through with fascinating, wonderful and scary magic. There are some dark, scary things here and some very appealing, equally magical things, like the kitten-plants that grow in a magical part of Lettie’s lane. As for what the ocean at the end of the lane is, and how it can fit in a pool and even, for a while, a bucket, that’s something else you will have to read this book and discover for yourself.
Apart from the fantastic storyline, this book is filled with nostalgia for childhood, for the wide-open spaces and endless possibilities that stretch before us when we are children. But there is consolation too — childhood is never totally lost, because no matter how grown-up we become, the children we were are still a part of us.
The narrator of this book compares it to a colourful comic book hidden inside a big, dull book with no pictures and no conversation.
Once you finish this book, you might want to try Gaiman’s other novels for younger readers, Coraline and The Graveyard Book.
Or you could try Cornelia Funke’s exciting Inkheart series, which has a world inside a book coming to life. Another great series to try is Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series. All these books have different ideas and settings, but they’re all built around the magic of imagination and wonder.