Another vacation read and one that reminded me of why I like Neil Gaiman so much. I came into this novel without knowing much about it and since I read it on my kindle, I didn’t even have a back cover summary to prepare me for what unfolds. I think that made this short but beautifully written story all the more powerful.
The novel starts out with an unnamed narrator, returning to his childhood home in England, to attend a funeral. He has some time to kill so he wanders around the countryside near where his family home used to be and he suddenly remembers the farm down the road and the young girl, a few years older than he was, who lived there—Lettie Hempstock. He stops by the farm and meets an elderly lady that he assumes is Lettie’s mother. They make small talk and the narrator asks if he can go down and see the pond at the edge of the property, a pond that Lettie often referred to as her “ocean.” It is there that the narrator is suddenly thrown back into memories of his past—memories of a particular summer when he was seven and when he met Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother and learned that there was magic in the world.
I don’t think it’s any accident that the adult narrator sounds a lot like Neil Gaiman and I suspect the quiet, bookish, 7-year-old narrator might resemble him as a kid as well. Though I don’t want to give away the plot on this one, I really appreciate the way Gaiman captures the powerlessness of being a young kid—where the adults control your world in ways both frustrating and frightening. The evil that the narrator and Lettie accidentally unleash could be read as supernatural or natural, but it’s terrifying either way.
This is both a “coming of age” and “loss of innocence” story but it is told in a way both beautiful and horrifying, both dark and optimistic. Can you tell I really liked it? I definitely did.
*Thanks to Amazon reviewer, Richard Owens, for giving me the idea for this title.