The world of fantasy can be difficult to get into. For some of us, as we grow up the magic just isn’t as convincing as it once was. Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short fantasy novel that succeeds beautifully in getting its readers absorbed in its universe. The story follows a boy (who remains nameless) who gets wrapped up in a horrible creature’s plan to take over the world. He needs the help of three Hempstocks – a grandmother, a woman, and a young girl – who protect our world in their own cryptic ways. The four must work tirelessly and creatively to banish some truly scary monsters back to where they came from.
For me, fantasy is difficult to read; fake monsters on a page don’t usually scare me, so it’s hard to convince me the character is scared when I’m not. Although Gaiman’s monsters seem simple, they actually freak me out. The main monster, a creepy nanny named Ursula, worms her way into the boy’s family, tearing it up from the inside. This monster shows up in other visually monstrous forms and threatens to kill the family and boy; the scariest part is that it reminds me of a person who breaks up families in real life. Ursula has an affair with the father and drives him to try to hurt his son. This is sadly a reality in some families, and that realism is Ursula’s scariest attribute.
Part of the reason this story drew me in was the protagonist. The seven-year-old narrator is really what sells this tale. He experiences very real fears and feelings that children grow up with: not being listened to, not wanting to seek help for problems, and fear of change. His relatability is an effective hook that teleports me back to his age. Being able to see through his eyes into this elegant universe is an incredibly beautiful and important part of this story.
This book is short; I read it in one sitting. Of course, that also speaks to the fact that it is really good. Once you pick it up, you probably will not be able to put it down. Just be sure to keep your favorite teddy bear next to you when you go to sleep that night.