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Bookends: Searching for solace in childhood memories February 18, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Searching for solace in childhood memoriesThe Ocean at the end of the lane

By Dan Davidson

October 8, 2014

– 815 words

 

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane: A Novel

By Neil Gaiman

Avon

192 pages

$13.36

 

As this intriguing story begins, our nameless first person narrator is driving away from an event that is never quite identified as a funeral, though the “black suit and a white shirt, a black tie and black shoes, all polished and shiny: clothes that normally would make me feel uncomfortable … pretending to be an adult” give us that impression.

“I had done my duty in the morning, spoken the words I was meant to speak …” and now he was seeking solace, planning to kill an hour or so before having to deal with all those people he had not seen for years.

As it turns out, he is returning to a place he has been before, a place where magical things happened when he was a small boy, where he had a meeting with fate in its several aspects. He was going to the place where 11 year old Lettie Hempstock lived with Mrs. Hempstock and Old Mrs. Hempstock, where there was a duck pond at the end of the lane beyond their old fashioned, many roomed farm house, a place where a different moon shone through every window each night.

Except that Lettie said that the pond was an ocean and that she and the others had come there across the ocean from the old country. And her “mother” said the Old Country had sunk long ago. And her “grandmother” said the REALLY Old Country had actually blown up.

The people in this story have no names. We meet Daddy, Mummy and the sister, and the opal miner who accidently ran over Fluffy, our narrator’s beloved cat.

The individuals who have names are not people in the regular sense of that word. The Hempstocks are quite deliberately like manifestations of the three fates: maiden, mother and crone or even Macbeth’s three witches, though these are not evil women. If anything, they are protectors of the land, and perhaps even the world. Just how that works is never quite clear to our narrator.

He has met them many times from boyhood to middle age, but he seldom remembers what happens while he is with them. He comes back to the farm when he is unsettled, as he did that first time after his kitten died, after the opal miner died and after he woke up one night choking on a coin that seemed to have appeared in his throat.

He and Lettie solved the mystery of what was giving people what they thought they wanted and destroying them after the fashion of that fabled “monkey’s paw”, but in so doing he made a mistake and brought something back with him, something that became Ursula Monkton, a creature that continued to give people what it thought they wanted.

Mummy wanted someone to look after the family while she worked. Sister wanted to be special to Ursula Monkton, and the creature made sure that Daddy did too, in ways that a seven year old boy could hardly begin to understand.

Ursula had a particular interest in the boy, as he had inadvertently provided her with physical egress to this world, where her abilities were much magnified over what she had been able to accomplish from the world beyond this one. She did not think to herself as evil. She was single mindedly self-righteous about her deeds – and that can be worse.

It took the combined abilities of the Hempstock women to undo the Monkton thing, and that was only accomplished by calling on its natural predators, the hunger birds, also from another plane of reality, also eager to do more than they had been called upon to do. To them it made sense to also eliminate the means by which the Monkton creature had gained entrance to this world – and that meant killing the boy, something that Lettie, in particular, was not prepared to allow.

As this story is being told to us by an older version of the narrator, there is some slippage between the ages of the observer and the tale teller, yet they share the same uncertainties about just what has happened to them. As he drives away, his 40 odd years of coming back to this place from time to time fade away – but he is somehow comforted.

At just 192 pages and fairly large print, this is barely a novel, but it’s a very good story, one the publisher thinks is special enough to provide a reading group guide at the end. There’s also an interview with Gaiman conducted by Joe Hill (that’s Stephen King’s son) in which the author reveals how much of the book is sort of autobiographical and provides his own recipe for comfort food pancakes.

 

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