Back in the 90s I had this friend who was a huge comic book geek who persuaded me to read this series called The Sandman written by some guy called Neil Gaiman. At first I resisted (a comic book? I was in my 30s, not prime demo for comics and anyway…) but eventually I wore down under the pressure of his repeated proselytization. Turns out my friend was right, this wasn’t guys in tights swinging from high rise to high rise or floating in the air touting clever jibes and blasting each other with laser beams. This was something uncomfortably close to art. The expressionistic paintings of Dave McKean were like nothing you’d expect in a pulpy comic and the stories? Just amazing, evocative, lyric, er um dream like(?). I was hooked and still am. I came across a book called Neverwhere not long after and will never look at subways, London, London subways, or quite really anything in the same way again. And the books kept coming: Good Omens (w/ Terry Pratchett), Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book amongst them and I kept reading, gladly.
You see Gaiman has this voice, charming and humane but creepy, occasionally whimsical but capable also of evoking real dread; and when he gets dark all the effects amplify because you have been charmed and cozened.
That voice is central to his new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The set-up is fairly straightforward; the narrator returns home to rural Sussex after several decades away. There to eulogize at a funeral he finds himself with a bit a free time so he drives around his old neighborhood. He comes upon a somehow familiar farmhouse. And there he begins to remember.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a book filled with strangeness and charm; its sole flaw by my lights is that it is over far too soon.
A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home and is drawn to the farm at the end of the road where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl and her mother and grandmother. As he sits by the pond -behind the ramshackle old house, the unremembered past comes flooding back--a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
A groundbreaking work as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark, 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.