This author is a genius. He has written a very engaging fairytale for adults that started out as a short story and grew instead into a short novel which will cross age lines and be read by young adults and even some older middle graders, perhaps with some supervision. There is some sexual innuendo but nothing that remotely rises to the level of most books today.
The audio is read by the author, and contrary to my former belief that authors shouldn’t read their own works, this man does a superb job, so much so that I do not think any other reader would have done it justice. He simply mastered the emotion and the tension of each character, bringing this story to life. It is a supernatural fantasy without getting to the point of being silly, rather it is always entertaining and imaginative. It will make the reader smile because when you get right down to it, it is the battle between good and evil and the reader will want to know who wins and how.
Returning to his childhood hometown for a funeral, a man now almost half a century old, finds he is flooded with memories of his past. Lettie Hempstock, an 11 year old, was his friend when he was an insecure 7 year old, facing fear and danger. When he returns home, he finds himself at the Hempstock farm, where she once lived, wondering if anyone in her family still lives there. Sitting by the pond that Lettie once called an ocean, he relives the time, 40 years ago, when she saved him from a fate worse than death. Three women had lived there, Lettie, her mother Ginnie and Grannie. They are still living there which tells you that magic is afoot.
When Ursula Monkton was engaged by his mother as the new housekeeper, the excitement really began. To him, Ursula was the personification of evil, even as she professed to only do what people wanted, to only give them what they needed. Lettie, on the other hand, was her polar opposite. She was wiser than her years, good and kind; she was protective and also a friend when he needed one. Her mother and grannie seemed to be women of great power, possessing great knowledge. All of the Hempstock women seemed to have special abilities to shape things, to alter life around them and even to cast spells.
Ursula had really frightened him, when he was a boy, because he recognized that she wasn't really who she said she was, rather she was simply what Lettie called a “flea”. She had entered his body in the shape of a worm and wanted to take him over, make him her captive, so she could control her comings and goings in this world. She had the power to compromise the love of his parents and to influence his sister to love her. When Ursula made known her desire to hurt him and take over his family, she held him prisoner in his own house and locked him in his room. She seemed to have hypnotic powers over those she wanted to control. Somehow, he managed to escape to Lettie who helped him regardless of the great risk to herself.
The story is so simple, really, and yet utterly creative, so it is never boring as the author gets inside the mind of this man as a seven year old and allows the reader to witness and experience his thoughts, shame, growing pains, and real fear for his family, himself and the world. The emotional tug of the novel is real.
His concept of adults simply being children in an older body is more profound than it sounds, for even my 97 year old mother once said, inside this shell is still an 18 year old girl wanting to live. With simple truths, Mr. Gaiman shines a light on what is wrong with humanity. We simply want too much and find it hard to be satisfied which unleashes the monster in all of us. Fortunately, there are those waiting out there to rescue us, and he definitely shows us a way.