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Neil Gaiman managed to do over the course of this one Saturday that I spent reading The Ocean At The End Of The Lane what my best friends had struggled to do - take my mind off and immerse myself in another world. And that's where I am lost right now. It had a spooky beginning for me - the unnamed narrator - a seven-year-old boy loves Batman and has a cat called Monster. What is spooky about that? Well, Batman, cat and monster were too close to home for me - words all related to the very issue that has been upsetting me these past few weeks. Now as I glance out of my bedroom window, I can see flecks of blue over what was till now a cloudy sky in Bangalore, a lazy cow that swishes its tail, a gentle wind that holds Time in its hands. And that's what the book is for me. Time was of no consequence here.
The Hempstock family - well, the author leaves it to your imagination as to what they could be. Initially, I thought this family of three women - Gran, Ginnie her daughter, and Lettie the youngest, were witches. Then I read in a review on Amazon that they could be immortals. Were they the kind witches? The kind immortals? Spirits? I don't know. I didn't care. Lettie Hempstock is 11 - and she and the boy form a friendship. A friendship that holds fast despite the whirl of fleas and varmints - or shall we just say strange, supernatural creatures that invade lives and make a hole in your foot, where a worm can eat its way to your heart. Outside of this world, we have the seemingly normal world. Our boy is bookish - and lonely. He also possesses an other-worldly maturity and intelligence. And the death of his beloved kitten and the suicide of an opal miner who was renting a room in his house brings him into contact with the Hempstocks. And what an adventure then begins. Memories collide. Forms change. People change. Gaiman leaves it to you again to make what you want of the fantasy - you can take as much meaning as you want from it, or render it just a harmless tale as you want it to be. For me though - as I read through it, I was touched by the depth of friendship between Lettie and the boy. He trusts her implicitly. And Lettie on her would do anything for him. And she does. Is there wisdom? Would you not call this that?
“Nobody actually looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody.”
And nobody likes what they are on the outside either. Isn't it? I think back to my own childhood and I know that I wrestled many monsters - mainly in my mind. I look back now on my so-called adulthood, and I find that I wrestle still the same monsters - still in my mind. Has nothing changed? Or is it just that we concede that there are fleas and varmints at every turn of our life? If so, there must also be Letties...
Perhaps I may surprise regular readers of this blog in my high rating of this book. I don't know - I feel that this book came at the right time, spoke the right words, and for that I am glad. Is there redemption and resolution? Not the kind that is to be expected, but perhaps, like everything else in life, just the way it was meant to be.
Verdict: Read this for a different experience. Especially if you are feeling the need for some escapist literature.