It’s been years since I was SO enthralled by a book. I was choked up at the end of the final chapter and had to stop…couldn’t read the epilogue. Didn’t want to. Didn’t want the boy to grow up—though I knew it was inevitable: he was, after all, an adult reliving his past—didn’t want to know what became of the wise and comforting Hempstock women, didn’t want to emerge from my ocean.
I don’t know exactly why this book had such a profound effect on me.
It had something to do with the fertile Sussex countryside, with the Hempstock farm—with Lettie, and Ginnie, and Old Mrs. Hempstock—with their pioneer spirit and simple sumptuous food: with their porridge and drippling honeycombs and pots of sticky berry jam; with warm unpasteurized milk straight from the cow (I’m sure I tasted that as a kid), with shepherd’s pie layered in gravy and mashed potatoes, and soup collecting in a hanging cauldron over an open fire. I wanted to join them at the scarred old kitchen table and whisper by candlelight and sleep curled up in the four-poster bed under the full moon— was both hungry and sleepy simultaneously.
It had something to do with magic realism (which I adore) and a delicate understanding of the soul and parallel worlds that know no space and time, with a reality that “was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger” (143).
Yes, it had something to do with incredible writing, perfect pacing and simple, yet powerful, descriptions that sing through the mind of the boy like an incantation. The girls and boys come out to play…
A boy that could be any seven year old boy and no seven year old boy. An unnamed boy…every boy and any boy and no boy: the “pudding-and-pie-boy”, the boy from the top of the lane, the boy running for his life in bare feet across the meadow in a lightening storm wearing red pyjamas and a soaking housecoat. He’s a boy much like I imagine Neil Gaiman to have been: a boy that reads by a glimmer in the dead of night, that dreams of Narnia and Batman, that loves the rain on his face as he sleeps, that feels and thinks and believes in a world adults have misplaced; a boy with no real friends until…a boy that fights demons and will give up his life to save the world.
And, it had something to do with a fluffy black kitten on a pillow that made me cry.
I promise I’ve not given anything away.
You must read it to know it.
Should I read the epilogue? Can I? Now? Ever?
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman, William Morrow: NY, 2013