Audie Award Finalist, Narration by the Author or Authors, 2014
Audie Award Finalist, Fiction, 2014
Sussex, England: A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. He is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet sitting by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean), the unremembered past comes flooding back. Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie - magical, comforting, wise beyond her years - promised to protect him, no matter what.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. A stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.
©2013 Neil Gaiman (P)2013 HarperCollinsPublishers
Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!
Neil Gaiman's "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" (2013) begins with a quote by Maurice Sendak, "I remember my own childhood vividly. I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn't let adults know I knew. It would scare them." Sendak's quote is an apt warning.
"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" is about a child, but, as Gaiman has made clear, it is not a book for children. Gaiman takes the worst nightmares of childhood (I had forgotten them myself, but no more) and binds them together into a compelling story.
Remember stepping on something sharp and worrying for days or weeks that it would kill you? But not telling your parents . . . Agonizing about the possibility no one would come to your birthday party? Being locked in an attic? Clothes that come to life and grab you? Worrying that your father will truly get so mad at you he will actually try and kill you? The babysitter who is vicious to you but sweet to your parents? Those fears are all in "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," wrapped up in parental preoccupation, indifference, and bewilderment at the 7 year old boy who finds a savior in the remarkable Lettie Hempstock.
Lettie lives at the end of the lane, with her mother and grandmother, near a pond that is the ocean. The reason the pond is an ocean and the remarkable powers of the Hempstock women are, to some extent, reminiscent of Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" (1988).
The story is intriguing on many levels, and Gaiman is an excellent narrator. I only wish I'd been able to listen to this curled up in a blanket with a cup of hot tea, instead of in my car, stuck behind a Cooper Mini for an interminable amount of time.
The title of this review is from a trade Lettie makes to get the tokens she needs to save her 7 year old friend. The eerie magic stuck with me.
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I'm a big fan of SF/F/Horror, and all things in between and out.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane feels like none of Gaiman’s previous novels. It’s easily the most personal of his novels, tightly focused, and brief – like childhood remembered by an adult. It’s a story of memories as tangible as the sea – we know they happened, we even swam in it, but the waves continue to roll, and the landscape is seemingly ever changing. It’s memories as mythology, and it’d be cynical not to fall under it’s haunting spell.
It’s also a meditation on mortality, as told by a nameless narrator who has returned to England for his father’s funeral. Because of that, it’s impossible not to divorce our image of the narrator as Neil himself, giving this book a fantastical yet autobiographical sense – even moreso as an audiobook – which is part of the point. Readers and fans familiar with Gaiman via Twitter and his blog may remember reading about similar familiar events referenced in this book, although their memories will be distinctly different from what occurs in the story.
As one character says: “That’s the trouble with living things. Don’t last very long. Kittens on day, old cats next. And then just memories. And the memories fade and blend and smudge together.”
Memories should be cherished and treasured, like dreams, but perhaps they shouldn’t be completely trusted. And it’s what we do with those memories that count.
In spinning this story, Gaiman has woven himself into a new mythology all his own. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a reminder to adults of the wonders and mysteries of childhood, and encourages us to find those same pleasures as adults. It reminds us that just because we’re grown up, doesn’t mean it’s over, and we may still witness wondrous and mysterious things.
Sci-Fi & Fantasy Reader
It’s hard to put into words just how much I loved this novel. Neil Gaiman has an exceptional talent for writing what I like to think of as fairy tales for adults. He writes these stories that are so deeply imaginative and yet are so real, they just resonate with me like few other stories.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane was a simple, yet incredibly moving story. It was simply elegant storytelling. It took me back to my childhood and made me appreciate it in ways I never have before. It also made me insanely jealous of people that got to grow up in big, old houses on quite country lanes.
I listened to the audio of this novel and I have to believe that was the best way to experience it. Neil Gaiman is not only an amazing writer, but he really is a great narrator as well. I had hear him narrate The Graveyard Books so I knew what to expect, but I was still incredibly pleased with the result.
Honestly, this novel was just excellent. I would recommend it to anyone, not just science fiction or fantasy fans. Brilliant.
I listened to the first two-thirds of this book while on a long drive, late at night, during a rainstorm. My little black-and-white cat was in her carrier in the passenger seat next to me. If there was ever a perfect environment in which to hear this book, that was it.
I can't give enough praise to Neil Gaiman for his performance here. In my opinion, the only person qualified to narrate Mr. Gaiman's books is himself. It's only fitting here, in any case, because I know the main character (unnamed) is sort-of semi-autobiographical.
Which brings me to my next point: regardless of the fact that the main character is a 7-year-old boy and I am a 29-year-old woman, I see so much of him in me. I was that kid who liked books more than people, believed adults to be both mysterious and all-powerful, and held faith that the world was full of magic and terror in equal proportions. Deep inside, I think I still am that kid, and that is what resonated with me most. We are all terrified 7-year-olds on the inside, hoping that someone is watching out for us because we really don't have as much control as we pretend to.
I cried during the epilogue. I couldn't help it. I was driving again, in the sun this time, on my way back home. There is one final realization the narrator makes at the end that both broke my heart and filled me with joy. I don't want to give away spoilers, but I hope that you'll know it when you hear it.
Please, please read this book. Or listen to it. Or better yet, do both. It's been a long time since I've felt this strongly about any book, but this is a masterpiece. You'll thank yourself at the end.
Short, Simple, No Spoilers
Little British boy meets intriguing odd young Hettie and her mother on an old quirky farm. While dabbling in another world, oddities come to life bringing about dire consequences for all around.
Interesting shell of a world, lacks depth and backstory for characters. Gaiman is a wonderfully descriptive writer as with the family home where you can see yourself running down the meadow looking for a hole in the fence and smell and taste the blackberry jam in the porridge. Lacking are the threads to tie together all the fanciful ideas to draw you in. I didn't love the book, but parts were inventive, clever and found the ending rewarding. Having the author narrate is always pleasant as he/she can add expression in all the right places.
I love the beautiful and heartfelt reviews listeners have thus far shared; there is so much revealed in their responses. How could there not be if they experienced this book. I say experienced because if you just listen, if you don't at some point feel something inside of you open and resonate with Gaiman's tale, you missed a dimension of this book-- as much as if you missed the secret hidden 3D pictures in those once popular Stereogram books. (You can find some at www.eyetrick.com to see what I mean. I struggled with those dang things!)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about more than just growing up or defining an adult world with a child's mind: it is about the process and mechanisms, the loss of innocence, becoming of this world. Gaiman maps this mystical, but very real dimension--as fearful as it is beautiful; primordially familiar--yet different for each one of us. The landscape is the experiences that as children we felt but did not have the sophistication to understand; the fears, the comforts, the effects we hadn't yet aligned with cause. A world where our favorite color, or feel, or taste might materialize in some form as a landmark or grounding we understood amidst the confusion of an adult world. Gaiman presents a pure and unfiltered portrayal of that world, which he captures brilliantly.
I've read very few of Gaiman's books because I don't usually choose fantasy. Those I've read were good, but still a little like a chocolate lover choosing vanilla. As I began reading this, I thought it more like Coraline, another read suited more for adolescents. It wasn't until the picture really came into focus that something resonated inside, and I stepped into this book. I thought back -- when the babysitter told me I'd stepped on a devil thorn and a blue line would start to climb up my leg, reach my heart, and I'd die...remembered my grandma's swing tied to a horse chestnut tree, and smelled the mint along the her ditch banks... I'm sure each reader filled in their own response, or landscape to this world. It all popped out in front of me; I saw, and felt, the genius in this book. Baudeliare said, "Genius is childhood recalled at will" If that is so, then Gaiman is definitely a genius that shares his brilliance with pen and paper, and reminds us that we were (or maybe are) once geniuses ourselves.
*Having Gaiman present his work is another aspect of magic. His voice lulls you into this world; it saves you when it is dark and threatening, it comforts you when it is frightening, and it holds a hint of a child that speaks to your own inner child. Just Wonderful.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
This short novel will undoubtedly stand as one of Neil Gaiman's more beautifully written, poignant books. The protagonist is a middle-aged man leaving his father’s funeral for a visit to his childhood home, where the memories of his seven year old self still linger. There, he recalls strange, dark adventures -- a friend who seemed much older than her eleven years, travels between worlds, a kindly grandmother who is more than she seems, a babysitter who turns out to be a monster in disguise, and that the kind of monsters who remove monsters can be even more dangerous.
The dark fairy tale aspects, which won't be a surprise to readers of Gaiman's other books, feel both vividly original and hauntingly familiar, the stuff of universal childhood pretend worlds and nightmares. In this novel, though, it seems, he's intentionally blurring the lines between the fantastical and the real. One could easily read this story as an allegory for childhood imagination and the way it shapes the rest of our lives, even after we outgrow it. If so, I found a lovely sadness in that interpretation. As kids, we are both tormented and protected by things in our inner worlds, which give shape to an adult world that we don't yet understand, until we ourselves are pulled into that world's trials and temptations. Will our adult lives be worthy of our original selves? Will we remember the light of our inner friends, the cruelty and deception of our inner enemies? Will we ever again meet what we left behind?
I found the gentle, bittersweet way Gaiman reflects on these questions touching. The things we remember from childhood may, in one sense, only be a small, weedy duck pond, but, in another sense, they’re as big as an ocean, our foundational experience of being human.
And, of course, I can't neglect to mention how good Gaiman's reading of his own audiobook is. His throaty, enunciative voice is, well... him.
I have listened to Audible for many years, yet never been moved to write a review. This book was so good that I have listened to it twice within one week. It starts off in the real world and then slowly takes us into a fantasy world that I did not want to leave. Well done!
Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.
How I wish I was enough of a wordsmith to craft the review that The Ocean at the End of the Lane deserves. I won’t do it a disservice and recount the plot; just do yourself a favor and read it – right now. It’s full of good, evil, power, powerlessness, family, and extraordinary friends.
A small taste: “Nobody actually looks like what they really are on the inside,” Lettie tells the boy. “Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world … Except for Granny, of course.”
I’ve always thought of audiobooks as equivalent to “real books”; they are just being read to me. Some narrators add to my enjoyment of the story, some detract, and some should not be allowed to read books out loud to anyone. Neil Gaiman is in a class by himself, both as an author and an audiobook narrator. His brilliant narration of his books is just that – brilliant. I was surprised to read this on his blog, “I'm more nervous about the audiobooks than I am about anything else.” No need to be nervous, Neil! When I next encounter a magical being willing to grant me three wishes, one of my wishes is going to be for Neil Gaiman to read me stories as good as The Ocean at the End of the Lane every night.
I love to read books; and now just recently I've discovered that audio books are very cool!! I'm also an author. You can find the SciFi book "The Curse of Europa" here on Audible or on Amazon.
At first I was a little hesitant of listening to an author read his own book. Authors can usually write a great story, but not many can speak a great story (myself included.) But Gaiman made it work! One benefit of the author reading their own story is that they know exactly HOW the dialog was intended to be delivered. They know where they want inflection, where it should be whispered, or exasperated, etc.
I like Science Fiction, good straight-up realistic SciFi! This is not SciFi, it is fantasy. But... I liked it. I liked it a lot. Gaiman tells a great story (both in his writing and in his narration). Half the time I thought the boy in the story was me at that age. I can't think of anything I didn't like about the story and the ending was perfect.
Quite high up!
I'd say it compares to most of what Gaiman writes. If you're a Gaiman fan, you'll most likely enjoy this book. If you're not a Gaiman fan, then I guess you haven't read any of his books... :)
There's something special about authors reading their own books, particularly when they do it as well as Gaiman does.
Yes. I almost did.
Time and time again Neil Gaiman shows what an good writer he is. This is no exception.
"Neil Gaiman is brilliant"
Neil Gaiman is normally praised for his creative stories, which is deserved, but what I really appreciate is when he narrates them himself. In addition to speaking in his own agreeable voice, he does all manner of Anglophone voices and accents across time and space, which really brings the characters alive. And his timing and phrasing are perfect. I first discovered his narration in the Graveyard Book, which is my favorite of all in terms of narration due to all the different characters represented.
The Hempstock women (Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother) are a trio of great characters. They are comforting and make you recall being safe and protected.
Not easy to say which scene was most enjoyable, but what I like is that the main character / narrator seemed to understand, even as a young boy, the limits of the people around him (particularly his father), and realized that even in disappointment, there may be something positive to be found. I keep thinking of the 7th birthday party his mother threw for him which none of his classmates attended; he didn't mind so much, because he got to keep the party game prizes for himself.
How to know and then forget everything.
"Couldn't put it down"
Great story, well told. Always nice to have the story read by the author too. Listened to this book in one sitting, had to know what was going to happen next. I would highly recommend this book.
"Neil Gaiman does it again"
This book is more in line with The Graveyard Book rather than American God from a Gaiman perspective if you are a fan. It is very well told by Gaiman himself and the story is excellent. His writing is very clever and you won't be let down if you decide to buy/cash in a credit. That said I think that the Graveyard Book is better, but some people may prefer this one for reasons I can't say without giving too much away!
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