Reality can be scary as hell.
You can have zombies, vampires and werewolves living inside a magical forest or a medieval make-believe town. You can have ghosts possessing children and sending them down the stairs in an exorcism film. You can have crazy giant cyborgs destroying a city.
But nothing – nothing – is as scary as the fear reality can provoke. The reason children are so scared of monsters is the fact that they can imagine them inside their bedrooms, where they should be comfortable and safe, where the rules of the adult world should also apply.
Which is why The Ocean At The End Of The Lane (Neil Gaiman, paperback by Harper, 192 pages), like most other Gaiman’s works, gave me goose bumps all over. The book is written as to sound almost like an autobiography, leading us through the visit of an adult man to his hometown for a funeral and the half-forgotten story he remembers as he sees the pond at the back of a farm at the end of a road, a farm where he met Lettie Hempstock and lived a story too scary to be true.
The result is beautifully scary. The introduction of fantastical elements into a realistic story, when properly done, has the effect of making everything possible and nothing seemingly real. Gaiman has the very unique ability to turn every chapter into a child’s dream, every line into a faint smell long forgotten. This is quite possibly my favorite of his – fast, thrilling, colorful, yet dark, this book is childhood in words.
Speaking of words, the man is their ultimate master, perhaps a magical creature just like the ones he loves to write about: every line is gorgeous, every character shines, everything seems impossible to improve. It always takes me a while to finish his books because of the beauty of his writing; I feel compelled to reread every other bit again and again, like someone throwing wine from one side of the mouth to the other, until I have tasted his words in every way I can. I believe exquisite is the best word I can use. His writing is simply exquisite.
Good books, much like good music, can touch your heart’s strings without asking it for permission or letting it know in advance. And I imagine the feeling provoked by this book is so difficult to describe because of how indescribable the bliss of childhood itself is for every person and, therefore, for every reader. I could write thousands and thousands of words and would still not be able to explain why or how this book is so good, the same way you could write the best of autobiographies and would never reproduce your childhood’s magic
(Unless, of course, you happen to be Neil Gaiman. In which case, hi, Neil. You’re awesome.)
All I can say is please read this. It’s short, fast, beautiful and I bet you’ll be touched. This was quite possibly my favorite book of 2013 – and I dare say it’ll continue on my list of favorite books ever for a long time, especially as I read it again and again in a desperate attempt to keep living inside of it for a little bit.
“Adults follow paths. Children explore”. And Mr. Gaiman writes dreams.