Neil Gaiman - The Ocean at the End of the Lane (4 stars)

Neil Gaiman - The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Multi award-winning author returns with hit that justifies the hype

Readers of The Ocean at the End of the Lane may experience an occasional sense of déjà vu. So many of the story’s key elements are staples of classic children’s fantasy: three mysterious women in a ramshackle farmhouse who may be more than they appear; a bookish, misunderstood child protagonist; the malignant supernatural presence which infiltrates the child’s life. However, the events that unfold are far from predictable.

Gaiman does this sort of thing as well as anybody, and after a low-key beginning he builds the tension with skill, resulting in some truly scary moments. Like the ocean in the duck pond, he creates a sense of scale far greater than the modest rural setting in which the action takes place.

There is real heart too, most notably in the narrator’s touching friendship with Lettie Hempstock, the girl from down the lane who may have been 11 years old for a very long time. These days there is a weight of expectation on anything Gaiman writes. Happily, this novel proves once again that the hype is justified.