The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
I read this book and remembered what it is to be a child. Being a child is wonder. Being a child is unique. Being a child is lonely. Gaiman explores the various facets of childhood in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
The most striking thing that I noticed is children live different lives than adults. They have a unique perspective. I certainly saw things differently as a child than I do now. But do I see things more clearly now? I wonder. Gaiman seems to think perhaps not. The adults in the story have less of an idea of what is going on than the main character. If this story was told from the perspective of the father, it would be a very different tale.
At the heart of Ocean is the question of the essence of things versus their appearance. The main villain, Ursula, appears to be the new nanny. The adults, even the other child in the house, accept her as such. In reality, she is a malevolent spirit taken corporeal form. The Hempstocks, too, are more than they appear. I am not entirely sure what the Hempstocks actually are. They are some form of fairy like entities, but they also take on the role of protectors (an unusual role for the faye). Again, only the narrator has any idea that the Hempstocks are anything but a kindly family of women.
This leads me in to another theme I consider to be prevalent: loneliness. Fear and isolation constitute a large part of the mental makeup of the book. Dealing with monsters is terrifying. No one believes him. He is isolated physically and mentally from the rest of the family as Ursula repeatedly locks him away. When he is facing the “varmints” and his possible death, he faces it alone. Sometimes being a child means you really and truly believe you are going to die. Frightened, alone in the dark, there is no one who understands what is happening to you.
Eventually you grow up and forget what childhood was like. The Hempstocks would have us believe that is for our own good. Perhaps it is. I can’t remember.