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The Ocean At The End Of The Lane: Growing Up In A Lovecraft Story

Updated on July 19, 2013

Given my love for Neil Gaiman's writing, it was somewhat inevitable that I would read and review this book. While not having the heft of some of his books, like "American Gods" or "Neverwhere," this book was a delight, a short tale of growing up and accidentally stumbling upon a conflict between Lovecraftian monstrosities.

The frame of story is of a middle-aged man returning to his hometown for his father's funeral. Needing to get away from his relations, he finds himself drifting back to the site of his childhood home, and then down the lane to the last house there, where he finds himself dimly remembering his interactions when he was seven with an eleven year old girl, Lettie Hempstock, who lived there with her mother and grandmother but suddenly had to go away. The rest of the book concerns his memories of that time.

When the narrator was seven, his family had a South African opal miner for a boarder who one day stole their car and used it to commit suicide. This action both brings the attention of the narrator to the strange Hempstock family (who have been living on the land since forever and are certainly not the simple farm folk they appear to be) and also attracts the attention of something else, a creature that wants to give people what they want in extremely dangerous ways. Lettie Hempstock's attempts to deal with it bring new complications, and both the protagonist and perhaps the whole world are put in danger.

I liked how sparing Gaiman was with a lot of the details. We never learn the protagonist's name, and what the Hempstock family actually is is left as a open question, although they are certainly not human. This just made what details Gaiman does give the reader all the more fascinating, such as the period details I suspect he may have pillaged from his own childhood, or the hints he gives at the multiverse that exists beyond human existence.

I also liked how Gaiman has essentially written a Lovecraft story, although admittedly from a somewhat more hopeful point of view. This is a story of a human who stumbles upon entities incredibly alien to human existence, whose motives he cannot begin to understand. Luckily the ones he has the most interaction with are benevolent, unlike in a Lovecraft story, or else this may have been a very different sort of tale.

This is the sort of book that resists a review, unless to say to go out and read it. It is a great and powerful book, and Gaiman is able to pack a lot of punch into only 178 pages. If you're a Gaiman fan or you just want a powerful book to read, go and check it out.


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