The story opens with the boy as a middle-aged man back in his hometown for a funeral, and he takes a drive to look at the old place but drives on past to the house at the end of the lane. He knocks on the door and is offered some tea. He then goes around back to sit at the duck pond, that his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock had called her ocean. He sits there and remembers: the story is mostly flashback to a particular summer when a lodger at his home steals the family car and uses it to commits suicide. The boy is with his father as they meet the police at the car. Lettie Hempstock, a girl of about eleven who lives at the house near where the lodger parked the car, invites the boy into her home where her mother and grandmother feed him and make him feel safe and welcome. It’s clear these women are not truly of this world. Perhaps they are witches or psychic, or at the least very aware of the world and the unseen hidden worlds.
The lodger’s death brings forth a creature from the hidden world, a flea as Old Mrs. Hempstock would call her, who wishes to play in the human world and enjoy herself to the fullest. She uses the boy as a passage to the human world and became the family nanny, called Ursula Monkton. He knows she isn’t really human, and tries to get away from her, to return to the Hempstocks who could surely sort all this out. He was completely unable to escape Ursula Monkton. In that respect, I found her far more frightening than the hunger birds that appear later in the story.
This is the second time I’ve read the book and each time it has brought me to tears. I love it so much that I’ve given as a gift twice so far. It’s creepy but also beautiful. If you read no other Neil Gaiman book, then you should read this one.
Review by Jessica A.