A writer friend, after reading Neil Gaiman‘s excellent The Ocean at the End of the Lane, described herself as “still in a dream state,” days after finishing this slim but weighty novel.

It’s easy to see why.

Ocean is the tale of an adult who returns to his hometown for a funeral and after the ceremony returns to the site of his childhood home, and in the process recalls a series of mystical events that occurred nearby when he was 7 years old.

In crafting the metaphysical elements of Ocean, Gaiman reaches back into his American Gods and Anansi Boys bag of tricks, mining ancient mythology, folklore and deities to tell the story of this unnamed boy. But unlike either previous novel, Ocean is set not in his adopted home of the United States, but in Gaiman’s home turf of rural/suburban Sussex, England.

There, the adult is overwhelmed by the return of hidden memories of his encounters with the women of the Hempstock clan, his somewhat distant neighbors on a nearby farm. In the midst of a crisis that emerges from a mysterious source, he strikes up a friendship with Lettie Hempstock, the youngest of the three Hempstock women. She becomes his guide, his protector and the gatekeeper to a world that exists just outside our own.

But something comes back from that other reality, and proceeds to terrorize the young protagonist in ways that would be horrible for anyone, but are particularly horrific for someone of such a young age, because they invade his home and the safety he thought he could find there. It’s easy to understand why the experiences became repressed memories

A third of the way through, my writer Spidey senses started tingling. I found myself thinking, “This was not intended to be a novel. This was a really fine short story that simply got out of control.”

And upon reading the acknowledgements by the author, that suspicion was confirmed. That fact doesn’t diminish one bit from the quality or depth contained within its tight 178 pages.

Anyone familiar with Gaiman’s accessible but lyrical style of writing will appreciate Oceans, and those unfamiliar with his work will find this a quick (really quick – as in one sitting) read that will introduce them effectively to the netherworld Gaiman’s imagination inhabits.

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