“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things that people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but aren’t.”
I hadn’t even reached the first chapter before I’d fallen completely in love with this book. (Which is why I’m throwing so many quotes around this review, there are just so many great ones.)
It’s a simple, fairy tale type story about a guy who travels back to his childhood home to attend a funeral. While there he visits his old house which had been demolished he’d when he was still a boy and the land developed into more houses. But not finding what he’s looking for there, he continues driving, subconsciously traveling to the house at the end of the lane, where as a lonely and imaginative seven year old he’d met an unusual and fascinating girl named Lettie and her equally unusual mother and grandmother. Lettie believes that the pond near her home is an ocean and that she and her family once came from somewhere across it, a place that existed even before the moon did, where creatures exist with the ability to feed on human energy on the rare occasion they are given the oppertunity to escape. Upon seeing the ‘ocean’ memories of his past unlock and unravel, spinning a fantastical tale of monsters, magic and friendship.
For me, reading is never as wonderful an experience as when it strikes a chord within me and evokes memories and emotions I’d forgotten I ever had, which this book did, often. But what I most enjoyed about it was that the story is also open ended, on one hand the reader can choose to believe that this is a fantasy story about extraordinary events that happen to a small boy. Or it’s about a man who as a child experiences something horrific, and his way of coping with seeing something he can’t understand, creates an elaborate story that’s easier for his young mind to deal with. Throughout the book he tells the reader how fond he is of books, how he prefers fiction to people because they are easier to understand.
” I was not happy as a child, although from time to time I was content. I lived more in books than I lived anywhere else.”
So when the adults in his life behave in a way that he can’t make sense of (which they do, often), he tells himself a story that he can.
Gaiman an writes wonderful children’s stories, his writing is perfect for this kind of dreamlike storytelling, it’s haunting and dark an funny all at once. but I don’t really believe that this one was written for children. He writes for the children that adults had once been, the children of yesterday not right now.
“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”
You need an adults eyes to see some of the things Gaiman mentions that a child wouldn’t necessarily pick up on. You need an adults hindsight to full appreciate what it’s like to look back on childhood and make sense of events that were beyond you while you were still experiencing it. It’s that longing for the magic and fantasy of long forgotten youth that makes his writing so powerful and coupled with a tale that’s so completely open to interpretation is just perfect storytelling in my eyes. I loved it.