Author : Neil Gaiman
Genres:Magical Realism, Creepy literary fiction
A middle aged man after a funeral, finds himself driving on autopilot back to where he used to live as a child. His family home has been demolished but he finds himself driving to a farmhouse at the end of the lane where a friend of his lived. The narrator tells us his memory of the time when he was 7, a bookish boy who lived in an old rambling house when one of his family’s lodgers is found in his father’s car, having gassed himself over gambling debts. He meets Lettie Hempstock who lives in the nearby farmhouse an apparently 11 year old girl with surprising abilities who takes him along for the ride when she goes to clear up a mess and inadvertently brings back trouble.
“How old are you really?” I asked
I thought for a while. Then I asked “How long have you been eleven for?”
She smiled at me.
(Narrator to Lettie)
The bulk of this book set in 1960’s Sussex England, only the beginning and the end is set in more contemporary times it is a very nostalgic view of a childhood. As the narrator was a child when the events describe happen we might be advised to question the reliability as memories of being seven years old are often a bit sketchy. I always wonder how much of such fantasy work is autobiographical not all of it obviously but I am guessing that the author was a bookworm as a child and I think we all at times felt that sense of vulnerability of being small and powerless in a strange world.
“I went away in my head, into a book. That was where I went whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible.”
Gaiman’s work tends to be more in the creepy and psychological horror rather than gore. He is a subtle master story weaving which encourages us to question our reality and like all of his work this book has elements drawn from various mythologies.
I really liked this book, it is well written and fairly easy to read (I read it over a weekend) it encapsulates the feeling of helplessness that goes with being seven and at the mercy of your parents or any other trusted adults.
“Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”
I would recommend this book to others as it is fairly easy reading and for some reason under the spell that Mr Gaiman casts its is fairly easy to suspend any disbelief that would have occurred with other less mesmerizing writers.
“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled.”
This book is a dark fairy-tale and it is swimming in symbolism, Letty and the other Hempstock women possibly refer to the female trinity as described by Robert Graves and subsequently Neopaganism, or knowing the author’s work the Greek goddess Hecate (they may be one it the same, anybody know?) but a far more friendly version than when Gaiman has written them before in Sandman comic books.
My favourite minor character is a tiny kitten that although it dies shortly into the book but makes many appearances later on. I know, it’s just that kind of book and I love it.
Note to parents: Although this book is about a 7 year old I wouldn’t’ read it to my 8 year old daughter. It contains some allusions to sex and some fairly scary scenes that would probably give her nightmares. Older teenagers would enjoy it though I think but it depends on the child.
Published by: Headline Publishing in Hardback 2013
As you may already know I am a huge fan of Mr Gaiman @neilhimself back from when The Sandman comics (1989 to 1996) broke the mould and where intelligent comics, comics for thinking people. Not surprisingly eventually the mainstream publishing world took notice. His first published novel was a collaboration with Terry Pratchett, the hilarious Good Omens published in 1990 (if you haven’t read it I recommend it highly). From there he wrote the BBC series Neverwhere (1996) which later became his first solo novel and he has then gone on to write for both children and adults. American Gods is currently been dramatized into a gripping TV show available on amazon.