“How can you be happy in this world? You have a hole in your heart. You have a gateway inside you to lands beyond the world you know. They will call you, as you grow. There can never be a time when you forget them, when you are not, in your heart, questing after something you cannot have, something you cannot even properly imagine, the lack of which will spoil your sleep and your day and your life, until you close your eyes for the final time, until your loved ones give you poison and sell you to anatomy, and even then you will die with a hole inside you, and you will wail and curse at a life ill-lived. But you won’t grow. You can come out, and we will end it, cleanly, or you can die in there, of hunger and of fear. And when you are dead your circle will mean nothing, and we will tear out your heart and take your soul for a keepsake” p. 139
There was something about this book that unlocked in me an unexplainable sadness that I succumbed to tears after a few pages. The unnamed protagonist’s reverie after the funeral (yes, I immediately and correctly guessed it as that) made me recognize his silent grief along with the gut instinct to find a place of comfort and solace. It led him to the house of the Hempstocks, the one with the pond that was called an ocean by his childhood best friend. The book had started out normally in a way that the author used the usual recollection of childhood memories as a springboard for the unfurling of a story, until the elements of fantasy took the boy’s consciousness to a different level, in the guise of a terrifying cloth-like monster that transformed into a worm and buried itself into the little boy’s foot and won’t let go of him. *shivers* The mystical and magical had taken over him, and any reader (at least I did) would feel a bit confused between the boy’s perspective of reality and his fantastical coping mechanism. The novel was sublime! It was dark, it had a heavy hold of my heart, but it was brilliant.
“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things that made me happy.” p. 149
We adults almost always outgrow childlike wonder because growing up means being rational and objective about the world. Sometimes we lose that wonder to fear, pain, and anger, and so the Hempstocks devised a way for this man to return to their home once in a while in his timeline just to give him back his hope in life, I guess, after he tried real hard to overcome his trauma as a kid. He needed to go back to remember he had friends who provided the warmth and security he was not able to feel from his immediate family. We are all scarred human beings, and it really depends on our will to move on to get out of the dark and not get comfy with it. The Hempstock women though, needed him to forget his visits to proceed with his life as he should.
“A flash of resentment. It’s hard enough being alive, trying to survive in the world and find your place in it, to do the things you need to do to get by, without wondering if the thing you just did, whatever it was, was worth someone having…then having given up her life. It wasn’t fair.” p. 167
In my opinion, this is Gaiman’s BEST work so far, where it’s deeply personal yet magical at the same time. He bravely shared a story of human experience not spoken out loud in our day to day lives but in confidentiality with close friends or families (or shrinks, if need be). The Ocean at the End of the Lane is powerful and poignant because life’s tests of a child’s vulnerability and strength was something we all kind of went through. Our imagination was the key in helping us recover and survive, regardless of whether our childhood friends were real or not.