The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond this world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defence is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.
This will be difficult. There is absolutely nothing I can say to pin this book down into a book review. I can't think where to start, what I could possibly write to summarise the plot, the characters, and my feelings on this one. But I'll bloody well try.
Gaiman shows us our world as it is, and as it absolutely should be, through the eyes of a seven year old boy who never tells us his name. We are shown normality and order before being injected with the idea of things which always stay just out of sight, of cracks in our universe where the paranormal creeps in. The realisation that nothing is as it seems is a big one here, and the feeling of the world opening up to something far bigger, is completely terrifying.
The story itself has a dream-like quality to it. You float through it as though it's a tangible fog, something to struggle through. You're confused in places; you don't know what's real and what isn't. You're frightened, then relieved; in mortal danger but ecstatically happy. It doesn't make sense, but you trust the process.
What frightened me most about this story is the idea that children are more perceptible to worlds or creatures which aren't quite what we're used to. Gaiman reminds us that adults never think to stray off the paths they usually take, to never look for anything out of the ordinary. Does this mean that the monsters we encountered in our childhoods are real? Do our memories hold things which aren't of this world? Have years of being sensible clouded our memories, and made us only believe in what's in front of us? A fascinating thought, but horrific nonetheless.
It's as difficult to pigeon-hole this novel as it is to review it. I am in a relatively unique position where, having only previously read Coraline and none of Gaiman's other masterpieces, I am as unbiased as they come. However, what I can truly see here is that Gaiman is in a total league of his own when it comes to defining genre. Yes, I could maybe say this was a fantasy novel. I could maybe say it was about magic, or the supernatural. Nothing fits properly, though. This is a Neil Gaiman novel, and that is the only way it can be described. I loved it.