I have seen this book appear on more and more of my friends bookshelves accompanied with glowing reviews. Wanting something quick and easy to read - a little more mainstream than my normal reading fare and intrigued by the book description I felt that I just had to read it. It showed the promise of being an adult fairy tale, to be a magical journey showing the dark side of growing up and how those memories shape us, in other words, an entertaining yet thoughtful book written by an acclaimed and skillful writer.
A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home in Sussex, England to attend a funeral and finds himself drawn to revisit the farm down at the end of the road, a place buried deep down in his memories, where the man committed suicide and where he first met Lettie Hempstock, her mother and grandmother. Suddenly, all the memories of that time came flooding back and he remembered everything, he remembered his seventh birthday when none of the invited guests came to his party, his delight at receiving a Gilbert and Sullivan LP, a boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia, and perhaps the best gift of all, "an affectionate, soft-haired black kitten" that he immediately fell in love with. Then things changed. Losing their money, his parents now had to take in boarders, the first of whom was the man who committed suicide at the end of the lane, but not before running over the beloved kitten and replacing it with a ugly old ginger tom cat that never fit into the family. Needing additional income, his mother now takes an outside job, necessitating a live-in babysitter and that is where his life takes a huge turn.
We are taken into a world where things aren't as they seem nor people the people we thought them, where impossible things happen, where the safe becomes dangerous and the world of a seven year-old is turned upside down. A place where unresolved anger, betrayal, and feelings of helplessness take root and grow, a place of self-sacrifice. We are shown how differently a child interprets things that are beyond their comprehension from the way an adult understands events. I won't go into any more of the story line as the book is relatively short and I'd run the risk of ruining it for other readers.
This book is more than the well-written, entertaining read that I was prepared to give a 3 star rating to. The book has haunted me since I finished, it won't get out of my head, reminding me how a thoughtlessly unkind, cruel action or word to a child who is unprepared to understand it, can rip out pieces of that child's heart. In true Gaiman style, he utilized his writing skills and his understanding of what makes us human to give us a book that will be appreciated by many. Although billing itself as as an adult fairy tale, it reads more like a young adult novel. If you enjoyed The Graveyard Book and Coraline you will love this one, I know I did.
Originally published on www.chapterofdreams.com