In a literary world where fantasy fiction is a dime a dozen, Neil Gaiman takes fantasy to a new level seldom seen. I have read so many fantasy books that now every fantasy storyline seems predictable. The characters are the same old witches and damsels and chosen ones. I am sure most readers can see where the story is going after the first four chapters. Gaiman’s books, though, are unpredictably novel and refreshing, and so is The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
The nameless protagonist of this story is one of us – a normal person, leading a normal life. We are introduced to him as an adult and we are told the story of his childhood. We get to know his parents, his cat, his only friend Lettie and her very loving mother and grandmother. We meet the evil Ursula Monkton, who was worse than the worst fears of the protagonist.She,in fact,seems to be the only person who had a firmly set goal in front of her. We never find out what Lettie wanted, or what her mother or grandmother wanted. We don’t know what the nameless protagonist wanted. It is probable that he just wanted a normal life. No quests, no honor, no glory; just a normal life. Maybe it is because they are normal people like us, not the so called Chosen Ones. We all have similar ambitions – get a good job, settle down, try not to die even though we know it is inevitable – hardly the stuff to write a book about. Maybe that is all that the characters wanted. Just to be as normal as possible in this crooked world. Have some people to love them, some people who would notice when they are gone.
The story perfectly captures the nostalgia of a lost childhood, and a lost friend who stood by you always, to such an extent that she sacrificed herself for you. The motherly and grandmotherly love which did not resort to vengeful thoughts after losing their child, but forgave the protagonist’s folly and took him in like a lost kitten. They gave him that unconditional love that was so missing from his life.
“Truth is, there aren’t any grown ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”
Yet, we are robbed of fairy tales as the world and time labels us as adults. That is where Gaiman comes in with fairy tales for adults who know that life is not all fairies and unicorns, but also know that there still exists that rainbow of hope amidst all that thunderstorm waiting for the little sliver of sunshine. This fairy tale of his is as soothing and calm as it is disturbing and agitating. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an ocean of emotions. There is an unexplained longing, a pang, that lasts long after finishing the book. This has been my favorite Neil Gaiman novel so far.