I decided to re-read this short novel when I saw a video of Neil dedicating the actual lane referenced in this story in his hometown in England & I am so glad I did because I loved it much more the second time through.
Let me get some minor quibbles out of the way first: are there aspects of this book that are a bit repetitive from Neil’s earlier works? Yes. Fans of Sandman or Anansi Boys can pick out scenes, characters and themes that will be extremely familiar (examples include the 3 witches, the power of spoken word, and certain nightmare images, among others). Even though I can see that, it does not affect my love for this book, which I devoured in about 2 days (admittedly, it is short).
What stood out to me this time reading the story about man, whose life feels unfulfilled and hollow, returning home and remembering an incredible adventure from his childhood? The first is how descriptive everything is, especially the food. I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say I began salivating as Neil described eating a honeycomb, something I have never done and now dearly want to try.
There are a couple of scenes that really hit home for me. When Lettie, the girl who lives at the end of the lane with her mother and grandmother, talks with the protagonist (who is, curiously, never named) and tells him that there are no adults in the world. Neil states on page 112 “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 are doing. Inside, they look like they always have.” As a nearly 50 year old man who sometimes looks in the mirror and cannot recognize his own reflection, that line hit home for me.
Another is about the protagonist possibly having a hole in his heart (not literally, just a piece of him missing), from an encounter with a malevolent creature in the story. I read this and wondered what Neil was trying to tell the reader about himself and his first marriage (and his second wife was the first person to read the pages of this novel). My sincere hope for Neil is that Amanda, his second wife, has been able to help heal the hurts he has accumulated over the years, through all of his encounters. I would strongly recommend this book to everyone, and it is one I will revisit many times over the years