When I was a little boy – I must have been six, or seven, or eight – I would sometimes get these very odd flashes of… I’m not even sure how to call it. “Feeling” is too general a word, no, this was disembodied and physical sensations, memories and premonitions all bundled together in an indivisible whole. It came when I was alone and felt like a place, somewhere, somehow. One moment I would be in my room, or wherever I was, the next I would be there. And it would last for just a second or two, but those seemed ominously stretched. It was a scary place, to be sure, mostly because I didn’t understand it and didn’t know how and why I was being taken there. And I knew it was probably a place in my head, little that I was, but it felt vaster than that. It felt like all the knowledge of the world was there and also all the things that I would love and lose. It might have been a good place, but it scared me every time.
I had forgotten about that place. Haven’t been there for a lot of years. I hadn’t thought of those flashes since… I really don’t remember. The sensation, or whatever it was, must have sunk somewhere in my skull, hiding from a mind busy growing up. Reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane made it come out a little. I didn’t experience it again, no, but I remembered how I would feel when it washed over me and then just as suddenly disappeared. It is a strange thing, reconnecting your waking mind with a forgotten piece of your self.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about childhood and memories, and growing up. It is a small book which does not puff itself up in any way to look bigger. It knows that it’s small and it also knows that you can hide pretty big things in small spaces. I suppose it’s called magic. Children know about magic, even though they don’t know how it works. That is not the important thing, however, to know, as one character puts it:
“So you used to know everything?”
She wrinkled her nose. “Everybody did. I told you. It’s nothing special, knowing how things work. And you really do have to give it all up if you want to play.”
“To play what?”
“This,” she said. She waved at the house and the sky and the impossible full moon and the skeins and shawls and clusters of bright stars.
I really don’t feel like quoting any more of my favorite passages (there are very many of those) and analyzing what the book is really about, etc. It is a story that simply is, set in the mythological time of childhood, to be read, relished and remembered. It is quite scary in its own peculiar way – because it tells about things that are older than our world, but also because it is told by a seven-year-old. It helped me better remember what it is to be a child: how proper bread should look and taste, how money really is measured in the amount of candy it can buy you, and about the pleasure of picking the best scab in the world. And about being scared and wanting to know. It may have taught me something important about being an adult as well; I don’t know, I’ll have to wait and see.
I love Neil’s stories (I know it’s rude to call people you don’t know by their first names, but I just can’t help it in this case, hope he understands). Neverwhere was my first and it reshaped the way my brain handles the concept of space. Some time later I read American Gods, and I think I was still too young to understand most of it. But when I think about what I like about books, I can definitely feel the imprint it has left on my reading habits. The Sandman volumes I read very recently and they rocked my imagination. I knew you could do such things with stories but wasn’t too sure about it, because I had seen it done so rarely. Those books convinced me that imagination is a force of cosmic stature. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is cosmic in a similar sense, but much more private and inward-looking. It probably isn’t the book you would want to discuss endlessly with your friends, or write mile-long reviews about. Rather, it can be your own place at the end of memory lane, where you might rediscover parts of yourself and realize they are not really that scary. Thank you again, Neil, for giving me that.