When you return to a childhood home, the first thing that becomes apparent is how small everything seems. Such is the case with Lettie Hempstock’s pond on their property at the end of the lane: it used to be the ocean.
Returning to his childhood town after a death in the family, our narrator finds himself drawn to the pond in the unconscious way that memory directs you when you stop thinking about where you want to go. But looking out over the pond calls back long forgotten events. Magic seeps out.
The story is about his lonely seven year-old self, and the curious friendship he strikes up with Lettie Hempstock. A lodger’s suicide draws the darkness out of the shadows, and manifests in the form of an evil nanny who tears his family up from the inside. Only eleven year-old Lettie can help him overcome her, with the help of her powerful mother and grandmother, and the ocean at the end of the lane.
Seen through the eyes of a seven year-old, the events of the story are ballooned and shifted, a childhood nightmare dreamscape in which strange occurrences can only be magic. It is frightening and horrific in a way that only fairytales can be. And captures one’s imagination in the way that fairytales do. Neil Gaiman is one of my very favourite writers and humans. This book is nothing short of magical.
I love the fact that this is not the first mention of the Hempstocks in a Gaiman book. Before reading this one, I read The Graveyard Book, where the young protagonist befriends the ghost of a witch called Liza Hempstock. There’s also a Daisy Hempstock in his novel Stardust. I love the idea of the story of a family history being recognised through the stories of other people across multiple novels. I also love the face that Gaiman’s hometown of Portsmouth named a road ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’, and it runs right to the sea (or at least, to the English Channel).
Read an excerpt here.