Neil Gaiman has written a fairy tale for adults, reminding us that childhood memories never go away, even when we think we have forgotten them.
It's been eight years since Neil Gaiman wrote a novel for adults, but frankly, many fans may not have noticed. I had no trouble locating and devouring a copy of “The Graveyard Book” in the kids' section – and the fact that it won a Newbery Award rather than a National Book Award in no way diminished my enjoyment.
“Adult stories never made sense, and they were so slow to start,” says the unnamed narrator in “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” “Why didn't adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?" Of course, plenty of adults do, and Gaiman has given them a fairy tale of their own.
“The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” pairs themes from Gaiman's young adult novels – a lonely child having to outwit an evil masquerading as a caregiver – with a middle-aged melancholy. It's his most successful “grown-up” book since 2001's Hugo and Nebula-winning “American Gods,” at one-third the page count.
“I was not happy as a child, although from time to time I was content. I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else,” the narrator tells readers. “I do not miss childhood. but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I found joy in the things that made me happy.”
In the opening, a 40-something man returns to England for a funeral and finds himself visiting a forgotten neighbors' farm -- the only remnant of his childhood untouched by developers.
As he sits by the duck pond, he remembers his only friend told him it was an ocean, and his memories of Lettie Hempstock and her family start to wash over him.
“Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.”