Paperback, 181 pages.
Read from October 08 to 09, 2014.
Gaiman, we meet again! It has been just over two years since I read anything by this fantastic author so I was quite happy when TNBBC picked this one for their Halloween read this month. A what a suiting pick it was…
This book is dark and has the capabilities of making your skin crawl, it is however also whimsical. Just like childhood. There is only one other person that I can think of that writes about childhood this well and that’s Roald Dahl. Both Gaiman and Dahl seem to be able to recall so well what it’s like to be a child, including the dark side of it. Growing up is scary and it’s hard but it’s also wonderful. While Dahl is no longer with us, I’m thankful that there are authors like Gaiman around that can still make us feel like children.
After returning to his childhood home after attending a funeral, the unnamed protagonist recalls the time he use to spend with his neighbour and childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock. He ventures over to his old neighbours and finds Lettie’s mother and recalls that Lettie has gone away to “Australia”. The protagonist initially remembers very little of his childhood but recalls a pond which Lettie used to say was her ocean and decides to venture down there to recollect some childhood memories. Sitting by the “pond” the man begins to remembers , it started with him losing his room as a boy so that his parents could let it out for some additional income. The opal miner had stayed with them, but after losing all the money that his friends and family gave him to gambling, he stole the family car and committing suicide in it. This death causes something unnatural to be released in to the world. While out with his father to retrieve the car, is when he meets Lettie. He is taken back to her home and introduced to her mother and grandmother.
The unnatural spirit that was released when the opal miner died believes that money will make people happy but it’s leaving money for people in very horrible ways. When the narrator wakes up choking on a coin, he seeks help from Lettie. The boy quickly comes to realize that there is something very special about the Hempstock women and when he asks about their exact age they never give him a concise answer. The women decide that the spirit must be dealt with and brought back to its own world. Against her mother and grandmother’s discretion, Lettie convinces them to let her bring the young protagonist along with her to banish the spirit. Lettie tells the boy that he must not touch ANYTHING while he is in the spirit world and to hold her hand the entire time. The boy fails at this only once while in the surreal spirit world.
After the spirit has been banished, the boy returns home from his adventure believing that everything has returned to normal. He finds however, that he has a gaping black hole in the bottom of his foot in which he can feel something moving around. He pulls out a worm from the hole in his foot and puts it down a drain, though he didn’t get all of it. The boy deals with the incident the way a curious child would, but as a reader this scene is has some serious gross factors and leaves you reeling!
The morning after removing the worm, the boy’s parent’s introduce him to Ursula, their new nanny. Everyone seems to love Ursula, except for the boy. He knows something is not quite right with her. She won over his sister with treats and adoration and his father with too much adoration (complete with some scenes no young boy should ever have to witness his parent doing) all while his mother becomes less present in the home and this is when is nightmare starts to begin…
Sounds unnerving and awesome right?! It really is. Gaiman never lets you down. Gaiman, like in many of his other novels, likes to have mythological connections to his stories because in a way, it keeps them all connected. For example, Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother sound like the triple goddess of mythology: the maiden, the mother and the crone. Equally, Ursula seems to represent the whore. The whole novel seems to revolve around similar dichotomies, such as childhood and adulthood as well as what we perceive as real and what we imagine.
Another interesting item that’s worth noting, just off some quick research, apparently some of the incidents in the book are in relation to some experiences that Gaiman had as a child, for example Gaiman’s father’s car was actually stolen and the thief did commit suicide in it.
This novel is less than 200 pages so it makes for nice quick read and I think you’ll find yourself being properly creeped out and just in time for Halloween. You may even find yourself recollecting on your own wacky childhood adventures. A must-read for any adult that still has a child-like spirit.