Stars: 5 out of 5
I am continuing my dive into my TBR list. This book was languishing on my list since 2014, and I’m really not sure why I didn’t read it sooner. I even had the ebook on my Kindle and all that… Anyway, I finally got to it and I’m happy that I did.
Neil Gaiman is an absolute master at writing books about children that are interesting for both children and adults. I loved his Coraline and the Graveyard book. They were engrossing and at times horrifying, but also very genuine. Same happened with this book.
The author has a rare gift of capturing the magic of childhood without turning it into something extraordinary. In fact, the very ordinary way he describes some rather extraordinary (and often terrifying) things that happen to his characters is what makes his books so impactful. This books brings me back to my childhood, when the world was new and I didn’t know the rules, so even most ordinary places could be magical doorways to other world. A tree in the backyard could be a castle and the pond at the end of the lane could be an ocean.
Children see a lot more then adults do, because they haven’t accepted the norms society and adulthood imposes on them yet, and adults readers should be reminded that there still wonders in this world that science and technology cannot explain. And that those wonders aren’t good or evil, they just are. They behave in accordance to their nature, and they don’t particularly care about human norms and rules, so interacting with them is always a gamble.
I loved that our protagonist is just a little boy who loves to read and is more comfortable in his own imaginary world with his books than with other children. He isn’t a genius. He isn’t the chosen one. He is just a kid who stumbles into something extraordinary and tries to cope with it the best he can. He isn’t particularly brave or strong, but he has enough courage to stand up for himself and say it when the situation doesn’t feel right. And standing up to an adult, especially if that adult is your parent, is the most terrifying thing in the world when you are a child. Most of us forget that when we grow up.
That’s why the most terrifying experience in this whole story wasn’t even Ursula or the hunger birds. It was the fact that his father tried to drown him in the bathtub. Whether he was enthralled by Ursula or she’d just played on his baser instincts doesn’t matter. When the person who is supposed to protect and support you tries to kill you, it shatters something inside of you. I’m glad the Hempstock snipped that night out of his memories.
All in all, this is a wonderful story about the fact that the extraordinary lives next door to us, you just have to look carefully for it. Question is, do you really want to venture down that lane?