For a change, this Gaiman post is about his latest book! I’ve nearly caught up with him.
If you aren’t paying attention, you’ll miss the Domesday Book reference the narrator makes, in this tale of fate, the 3 Fates, a monstrous visitation, death, and a young boy caught up in the ensuing maelstrom. The Domesday reference is in no way critical to the novel, except as a clue to the age of some of the characters. (One of them says she remembers when the moon was made. I’m certain one of my grandmothers made a similar comment when I was young.)
The maelstrom starts as an eddy — a suicide, just down the lane from the boy’s house, inside his family’s stolen car. When he accompanies his father and the police to the car, he meets Lettie Hempstock, a girl just a few years older than he is. She lives with her mother and grandmother. When money starts showing up in odd places (wads of bills in farmwives’ handbags, coins thrown at the boy’s sister, a 1912 silver shilling in the boy’s mouth), Lettie is sent to “sort it.” The “it” is a monster who uses the boy to move into our world as a human.
The story is told in the boy’s voice, starting as a grownup revisiting his old neighborhood after his father dies. Childhood horrors have faded, or were covered over, and the middle-aged man is left with the sense of something just beyond his reach, something he can find by retracing steps taken so long ago. Only when he sits by a pond — the “ocean” of the title — do memories of Lettie and the horror and awfulness of the monster return.
There is no way I’ll attempt an actual review here. My favorite is AS Byatt’s, in The Guardian. But I will add that Gaiman has, once again, taken a child’s experience of the world around him and turned it into something huge and frightening, reminding adults, once again, of the real terrors of being young, small, powerless and ignorant.
Are adults’ memories truly so pitiful that we can’t remember those terrors? Or have the terrors resolved into something we can explain away? That coin that was in your mouth when you woke up? Only a dream, my dear. Must have been after you broke your piggy bank.
Rest assured that this novel is not an allegory or metaphor. The monster is real, ruining lives around the boy, including those of his closest family members. It takes people like the Hempstocks, with special knowledge of the way things truly are, to “sort it”. I’d like to think the Hempstocks are still keeping the monsters at bay, still in their house near the ocean at the end of the lane.