This weeks recommendation is one from the wonderful mind of Neil Gaiman, and while it strays from the regular intricate and twisting stories were used too it still delivers read that you cant put down- only this one leaves you feeling nostalgic and downright emotional like a child at the end. Gaiman can do it all, and this book proves he can take readers on journeys of all kinds.
Anyone who has followed Gaiman over the course of his career knows that he delivers stories that have an abundance of mythology behind them while delivering adult themes (at least in their complexity) always with a small mixture of darkness to the characters and often the impending threat. However this book is very different, even more so than Coraline in tone, as it deliver a tale that makes you reminisce over your childhood while at the same time becoming fully engaged and emotional involved in the world that is presented.
the official synopsis for the book is as follows: It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond this world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defence is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.
The central character in the story is a young child, just like with Coraline and The Graveyard book, and Gaiman has a way of delivering dark fairytale like stories with young central characters and this book is no shift from that- but the way it delivers the tale is very different. This book doesn’t start out particularly dark as we get to see the life of a small child in his home and how he spend his days toiling away on the garden and with his head stuck in books; the life we all wanted or remember from our childhood. Even when things go slightly dark and the families lodger commits suicide within their car the child doesn’t see the full horror that can be present within the world, and there is something innocent about this that you see when you look at your own children and only hope they can hold onto for as long as possible.
However its the encounter with the ladies who live nearby that truly changes the face of the novel from childhood memories to one of dark terror, as the family home is invaded by a ‘grey eyed’ nanny who also appears to be a beast that is tormenting the boy, due to his encounter with a fantasy world when he swims in the old ladies pond and gets struck by a ‘ragged beast’ for not following the rules. The old ladies seem to shelter him when they can and make things better but at home his simple and pleasurable life is changing for the worse. His father is seeing the maid, his mother is becoming less present, his sister is starting to hate him and no-one can see or believes what is happening to him.
The journey we are taken on by the narrator is one of pure brilliance, as we get to see how he viewed the world then, compared to now 40years on and how he still isn’t sure if the magic he experienced from the Hemstocks is real or make-believe and he has no idea why he is still drawn back to the ‘Ocean.’ As the tale unfolds, you get to see more of the fantasy world unravelling around him and his perceptions of what is real and make-believe really shift.
During the course of the story there are some amazing moments, like the journey through the lake where all time and space is laid out in front of our two protagonists and is given a great feel and makes the entire world seem so large and huge and everything seem possible. There are moments of magic and danger- being chased by the thunder storm- that make you worried for the protagonist but are so well written that each and every moment has you on tender hooks. This book is full of moments that make it truly magical, and very hard to put down from the moment you pick it up.
If you like your books full of creepy moments, dark magic, childhood nightmares and brilliantly written moments of character interaction then this is the book for you. However don’t fully expect this to be one that wont scare your children; as I’ve read in places it wont; as it can be dark in places. But overall Gaiman proves he is truly the master of dark fantasy novels!