A middle-aged man returns to his hometown when he has to attend a funeral. After the service, he finds himself driving past the site where his childhood home once stood, inexplicably drawn to visit his old neighbour at the end of the lane, where, at 7-years-old, he met wise and incomparable Lettie Hempstock, her mother and grandmother. When he arrives, he is suddenly flooded with memories of the fantastic events that occurred there, all of which he had long forgotten.
Forty years earlier, his family took in a boarder – an opal miner – who accidentally killed the boy’s kitten before ultimately killing himself days later. This man’s death unleashes something dark and altogether scary into the neighbourhood, which coincides with the arrival of the family’s new boarder and nanny, Ursula Monkton. When things begin to take an alarming turn for the worst, only Lettie – wise, magical and comforting – will be able to protect the boy.
In many ways this book was a coming-of-age story wrapped in a fairytale. It tells the story of a boy trying to find his place in the world by conquering his fears against incomprehensible otherworldly forces. And along the way, the boy is protected and aided by the wise and loving Hempstock women, Lettie in particular. Juxtaposed against this warm female force, is the menacing Ursula Monkton. All of these female characters are nuanced and intriguing forces in the 7-year-old boys world.
And no matter how fantastic, I never questioned the reality I was presented, because I was totally immersed in the story. This is such a testament to Gaiman’s writing. The prose are so rich that everything was clearly etched in my mind. Even now I can close my eyes and picture the pond behind the Hempstocks home, the ocean. And as this is a Neil Gaiman book, it was pretty eerie and even scary at times. Scary enough to keep me up the night I started reading it. It’s a nice short and impactful read though – I started it Sunday night and was finished by Monday night.
If you don’t get spooked too easily, I recommend this book. A nice, quick, satisfying read.