“I remember my own childhood vividly – I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.” ~ Maurice Sendak, in conversation with Art Spiegelman.
This quote opens Neil Gaiman’s latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and beautifully sets the tone for this compact cross between a fairy tale and a horror story. Let me say this right up front: if you do not enjoy magic in your fiction, stop right here. Gaiman presents the very real magic of childhood, where things are generally black or white, good or evil; where magical things can and do happen without too much disbelief on a child’s part.
The book opens with a middle-aged man traveling back home to Sussex, England, for a funeral. He takes a seemingly aimless drive through the countryside, only to realize that he has been heading to the site of his childhood home, and the home of a childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock. This visit takes him down memory lane to the events that occurred when he was only seven years old, and Lettie was eleven. As the narrator reminisces, his memory becomes sharper, more true — and we see the reality of a very dangerous time that, for some reason, he does not remember as an adult – not until he comes back to this place. It’s almost a glimpse into an alternate universe, except we, as readers, know it’s the real universe.
I loved this book. I loved how Gaiman captured my childhood philosophy: Don’t Tell the Adults. They won’t believe you, or worse — they’ll ruin it. Magical things can happen, and you just need to deal with it, for with height and age comes disbelief and impatience. The world we live in as children must not be betrayed, even if we get scared sometimes.
The Specsavers National Book Award is a British literary award which honors the best UK writers and their works, as selected by an academy of members from the British book publishing industry. There is the best in fiction, in non-fiction, in autobiography, and so on. From this list of winners, readers vote to select the Book of the Year. It is the only literary award chosen by the reading public. And the winner for 2013 was The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s a lovely honor, and well-deserved.
Give it a try; after all, can so many voters be wrong?