Author: Neil Gaiman.
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
I spent a little while trying to figure out what this novel reminded me of, and finally I thought “Coraline. That’s it. The undefined mythology that somehow makes perfect sense – that’s Coraline.” I only realized hours later that Coraline is also by Neil Gaiman, and thus perhaps not the best comparison. More of a testimony to his voice or style.
But there really is something to the wonder-and-terror mythology of these worlds. They’re never clear-cut or nicely laid out, but the rules that we do hear make intuitive sense; it all makes sense, in a weird sort of way. That’s the most compelling part of it all. Everything makes sense, even when it makes no sense at all. Gaiman draws us back to childhood horror and delight, to the way a boy could accept the presence of magic without blinking an eye, to the senseless terror of an adult’s raised voice and the knowledge, the knowing that you don’t like someone and never will no matter what they look like.
The best part, to me, is that the child is actually intelligent. (Overly intelligent for his age, some might say, but I do think his age is evident in his behavior and in his easy acceptance of magic.) He makes a few mistakes, but when it really matters, he has the stubbornness and courage to hold his ground and follow the rules.
In general, I don’t like the stories where characters forget/have memories stolen of Other adventures, but I can put up with this one, for the rest of the story. Over all an alarmingly resonating story of childhood and memory, sacrifice and courage, and magic.
Sexual Content: “I watched as my father’s free hand, the one not holding my sister, went down and rested casually, proprietarily, on the swell of Ursula Monktoi’s midi skirted bottom.” / Child sees his father cheating on his wife with another woman – he doesn’t understand what he’s seeing and goes on immediately. It’s a very brief view.
Violence: Kitten is hit by a truck, off screen. Characters find a body in their car – man committed suicide by monoxide poisoning. Kids find the corpse of a vole. Father (manipulated by creature) holds his child underwater in a bath for a short period and seems possibly intent on drowning him, before letting him up. Character threatens to make the MC’s father drown him. Child pulls a worm out of his foot. Monster-birds tear another monster apart. In an alternate (changed) timeline they kill a child, but this is only realized by him through brief sensations and a fading memory.