The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman, 2013
A man - now middle-aged - returns to the town he grew up in to attend a funeral. Needing a break from the crowd, he goes on a drive and finds himself back on the street where he grew up. He remembers a girl named Lettie Hempstock who lived with her mother and grandmother down on the farm at the end of the lane. He remembers that Lettie moved to Australia when he was seven, but decides to go down to her house, for old time's sake. While sitting by the duck pond behind the farm, the man remembers that Lettie used to call it her ocean... And then he begins to remember a whole lot more: about who Lettie and her family were, about an evil released into this world after a suicide, and about what really happened to him and Lettie that summer.
Neil Gaiman has been my favorite author every since I read American Gods about fifteen years ago. When this book came out in 2013, I immediately bought a copy... and then it sat on my shelf until now. I'm still not sure why. It's a small book - less than 200 pages - and a quick read. But one thing or another kept pushing it off the top of my to-read list, until now. And having now read it, I can't believe I waited so long.
This book is a quick read - I read it in one evening, and I'm not a fast reader - but it packs a punch. It reminded me a little of The Thief of Always by Clive Barker, in the way that it's told from the point of view of a child - I liked the contrast of an innocent child facing a great evil, and I thought that Gaiman did a wonderful job of writing it so that the adult reader would feel the point of view of the child.
I also loved the relationship between the narrator and Lettie. Lettie was quite an incredible character in her own right, but the way that the two bonded so closely over such a short period of time really helped the climax - and what we find out about what might have really happened - pack the punch that it did.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a good fantasy story. And anyone who might feel daunted by the idea of picking up one of Gaiman's books - this is a great place to start. It's pure Gaiman - his writing style is on full display, and since this book is geared more to an adult audience (despite its length), it is a better indicator of his talent than Coraline or The Graveyard Book, which are intended for a younger audience.
Definitely one of the best books of the year, so far, for me. And one that I am sure that I will revisit again and again over the years.