I borrowed The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman from the library a couple years back, but I didn’t make it past the first few pages. Then it fell into my lap again on a trip this week and turned out to be the perfect book at the perfect time. I firmly believe there is a book for everyone and a time for (almost) every book. We’d just finished a 7-hour drive and arrived at our friend’s house with a couple hours to spend waiting for her to get home from work. One of the first things I noticed in the front room was her bookcase (obviously), and The Ocean at the End of the Lane was sitting right on top. She had some other books that I was more interested in reading, but I needed something I could finish before she got home that night. I grabbed the book, flipped through it to see if I could read it in a few hours (I could*), and walked the girls to a park we’d seen on the way in. I’m generally a sit-on-the-bench sort of park mom, but I will make an exception for pushing babies in swings. (It can be done one-handed while reading a book, after all.) By the time we walked back from the park, I was 1/3 through the book and hooked.
I’ve heard The Ocean at the End of the Lane described as a perfect depiction of childhood. I’ve read books that better capture the essence of the thing, perhaps, because writing about the innocence of childhood is not the same thing as filling the book with the feeling of it. This is not a carefree look at childhood as much as it is the story of a boy in over his head when an otherworldly essence sneaks into this world and masquerades as his housekeeper. Even though the main character is seven years old, the book is pretty spooky. In fact, the book starts with the following epigraph (which is a quote from Maurice Sendak): “I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.”
The narrative has a slow, nostalgic pace (not unlike a summer afternoon), but there is plenty of action both mundane and fantastic. About 2/3 of the way through the book it got really weird. I don’t know if I was supposed to be able to figure out all the intricacies or if it was deliberately esoteric, but I might have put the book down at that point if it hadn’t been so close to the end. The conclusion of the book was both delightfully complete and open-ended (so basically, the perfect ending to this particular story). When I finished the book, I was gripped by competing desires to run to the internet and read all the color I could find and to sit and think and not let any other ideas color my own interpretation.
All in all, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was the perfect book for me at the perfect time. It’s not one of my very favorites, but it was a good one. It was sitting there, calling to me, on an evening when I had some time to sit and read. I finished it in one day, and have eagerly jumped into two other books since. Turns out, all I needed to overcome a reading slump was to browse someone else’s bookcase. (It’s like all my book-owning dreams come true in reverse.)