Neil Gaiman is on a nostalgia kick. The proof may be in the author's revelation that he's taking a sabbatical from social media starting in January 2014, stepping off the grid after a year that will include writing an episode of the BBC's "Doctor Who," publishing his first-ever picture book, "Chu's Day," and releasing a BBC radio play of his novel "Neverwhere."
Or, perhaps, the proof of his wistfulness can be found in the novel "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," which he released this past Tuesday. Gaiman, 52, says the book provides a semi-autobiographical account of his childhood.
Gaiman is, of course, being cheeky. "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" is the writer's first work of adult fiction since 2005's underrated "Anansi Boys" and, at 178 pages (slightly over novella-length), the novel is both spartan and stuffed with the writer's signature nods to myths, fairy tales, folklore, meandering English countrysides, hazy childhood memories and at least one very-mature reference to a dead body in a car.
There are supernatural impostors who resemble British nannies, footworms (which are exactly what they sound like) and, living by an old duck pond, an all-female coven of clairvoyant … witches? Enchanted, all-knowing protectors of the universe? Gaiman leaves the answer ambiguous, as he has with creatures in his other books, which include the acclaimed graphic novel "The Sandman" and the Hugo Award-winning "Coraline."
"Adult stories never make sense, and they were so slow to start," the narrator says in "The Ocean at the End of the Lane." In the novel, a middle-aged man reminisces about one supernatural-laden year of his childhood. "They made me feel like there were secrets, Masonic, mythic secrets to adulthood. Why didn't adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?"
"The Ocean at the End of the Lane," an adventure about a bookish boy who meets supernatural beings down the lane, is Narnialike. But as Gaiman told NPR during a recent interview, the book is less about secrets than it is about "helplessness."
"It's a book about family," Gaiman said. "It's a book about being 7 in a world of people who are bigger than you, and more dangerous, and stepping into territory that you don't entirely understand."
Neil Gaiman will discuss and sign copies of "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" 2 p.m. Sunday at Temple Judea, 5500 Granada Blvd., in Coral Gables. Admission is free, but attendees must purchase a copy of the novel ($25.99) at Books and Books. Call 305-442-4408 or go to BooksAndBooks.com.