August 30, 2014
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Book Review: 'Ocean' uncovers darker sides of adulthood
8/29/2013 10:03:45 AM

By Daniel Pringle

Liberty Lake Municipal Library

In "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," Neil Gaiman turns down the overt fantasy elements of his earlier books like "Anansi Boys," "Coraline," and "The Graveyard Book" for a story in which magic subtly penetrates reality in the mind of an impressionable boy. When a middle-aged man returns to the English village he grew up in for a funeral, he is drawn back to his boyhood home and then to the farmhouse at the end of the lane where he met a remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, when he was 7. Sitting beside the pond that she'd called an ocean when they were children, memories of the harrowing events of a spring long ago flood to the surface.

When a strange man commits suicide in the family car, it summons a dark force from another realm. Lettie and the boy think they have sent it back but it returns in human form as the boy's new nanny. As she pursues her twisted mission, she brings the frightening power of the adult world to bear on the boy and Lettie to thwart their attempts to banish her for good.

They ultimately succeed but at great cost. The disheartening moral of Gaiman's mature fairy tale is that adulthood, with its vague fears and "foolish casual cruelty," is the inescapable monster inside all of us, and that, once we reach it, we forget the path that led us there and don't recognize our own monstrousness. That we may recall it, though, and that the world will briefly make sense, is the bleak promise of their ocean.

Daniel Pringle is adult services and reference librarian at the Liberty Lake Municipal Library.

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