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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

5/5 stars

"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.”

This is my favorite quote from the book, and put to words a realization that I remember having many years back when I thought by then I should "feel like an adult" ... and that the thing adults don't tell you is that you'll NEVER really feel like one!

And on that note, I think this book is meant for the kid inside every adult. It was written for adults - in fact, Gaiman says he purposefully wrote the first few chapters to be dull so as to dissuade younger readers. But I do think it would be at home on a shelf of young adult fiction as well. Gaiman is skilled at writing in a way that is accessible for a wide range of ages. All of my favorite kids and YA books do this. There is enough there to be really entertaining for an adult - enough that might fly over the head of a younger reader, but not make a young reader feel like they're missing anything.

The book begins with a man in his 40s - the narrator - visiting his childhood home town for a funeral (we never learn his name, nor do we learn whose funeral he is attending). He takes a drive to see his old home, and the farmhouse of nearby neighbors - a young girl named Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He remembers very little about them, his relationship to them, or, really, about his childhood in general, except that he was lonely, and Lettie was a friend. But as he walks down the trail from the farm to the duck pond, memories begin to flood back. The pond - he and Lettie used to call it the ocean (was it an ocean?). The lodger that stayed at his home and committed suicide. The evil, magical monster that was unleashed in the aftermath. The Hempstocks finding a way to banish it, to keep him safe, to reunite him with his family.

Ocean is creepy and scary and sad, but also hopeful and enchanting. It is a short novel, but really touches on a lot of deep subject matter - Themes such as the meaning of friendship and love, resentment and fear, and what really constitutes a "monster."

“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 people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren't.”

"All monsters are scared. That's why they're monsters."

P.S. I found out that The Duke of York's Theatre in London has a stage production of the book, which looks really beautiful! Not that I can go to it, but I enjoyed seeing the photos:


UP NEXT: Firekeeper's Daughter, by Angeline Boulley

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