The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, abridged by Doreen Estall

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Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 8-12 July 2013
Neil Gaiman's novel, read by Michael Sheen, explored the deepest recesses of childhood; the search by the protagonist as to what might have happened to him in the past.  That search is a profound one, but might have dangerous as well as beneficial consequences.
The narrator attends a funeral in Sussex, and comes near a duck-pond which reminds him of his childhood association a girl called Lottie Hempstock.  He remembers her peculiar quirks, such as describing the pond as "the ocean."  But was is really like this?  This provides the stimulus for a terrifying journey into a hellish world in which nothing is quite as it seems.  Past, present and future are brought together; children are intimidated by their so-called "guardians" and try to take revenge, only to discover something even more horrific in the process.  The only way to sustain oneself through this world is to hold the hand of a companion, despite what anyone else might say.
The book has a timeless quality as the narrator embarks on his quest.  What does a few weeks matter in the universe?  Are we all going to be swallowed up anyway by the ocean, which might be tangible, but could also be symbolic of our own oblivion after death?  How can we survive in this world, in which everything seems beyond our control?  Is there something called Fate, which might be indifferent, but which can work for us so long as we acknowledge its presence? 
The Ocean at the End of the Lane might be science fiction, but it raises ontological questions that concern us all.  Gaiman's prose is both vivid yet horrific; he has the ability to conjure up mental pictures in a series of terse descriptive phrases.  Michael Sheen's reading only served to emphasize the novel's basic qualities.  The producer was Heather Larmour.