I was confused into thinking that this book was another of Gaiman’s book for children and so I was unwilling to part with £7.99 to own a copy and then it came to pass that I picked it up for £1.25 from my favourite Sue Ryder charity shop and discovered it was a book for adults written from the point of view of a child. At 235 pages it is quite a quick read and I had it done by about lunch time today (I bought it around two o’clock yesterday and in between reading I have had a Goan curry, a few beers, watched a recording of X Factor, Homeland, Toast of London and Coach Trip, had some sleep, cornflakes, pasta and played a shed load of Need for Speed: Undercover, emailed my nephew and spoken to both my parents on the telephone. What I guess It grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.
The story revolves around a seven year old boy who lives in the countryside and gets mixed up with the Hempstock family – three women who form the typical young, middle-aged and Granny witches’ coven. Although it’s made quite clear they’re not witches they seem initially similar to Granny Weatherwax’s coven from the pen of Gaiman’s friend and sometimes collaborator Terry Pratchett. As it happens Eliza Hempstock made an appearance in The Graveyard Book and Daisy Hempstock in Stardust and Gaiman would have it in the interview in the back pages that fill out the book at the end that he was pleased to give them centre stage for once. The Hempstock’s are creatures of light and seemingly protectors of our reality and by the end of the book you are left in no doubt that the Hempstock’s are very much more than stereotypical witches and that there is more than one universe.
There is a lot of good observational stuff about what makes a seven year old, whose passion is adventure books, food and pets, tick and there is a good balance between the dark stuff of childhood and the fantasy. I started the book feeling quite cynical about the story and ended feeling mesmerised over the poetry in Gaiman’s prose.
Having very recently read The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth I was spotting figures of rhetoric sprinkled very nicely throughout the writing and I have no doubt that Gaiman is not ‘baking blindfolded’ – he is a master storyteller and he knows exactly how to coin a phrase and make what is a rather straightforward fantasy short story into something that shines brilliantly from the page directly into the emotional cubbyholes of my brain revealing memories I haven’t needed or wanted to think about for some time in my adult life.
The only bad thing I can bring myself to say about this book is that the creatures towards the end of the tale that tear at reality seem very similar to Stephen King’s Langoliers and those bat-like creatures that featured in the early episode of Doctor Who in which Rose Tyler wanted to stop her father from being hit by a car and broke a cardinal rule of time travel.