Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Oh, sweety-weety-pudding-and-pie, you are in so much trouble."
There was an ocean at the end of the lane.
Or, to be more precise, there was a pond behind a farm at the end of the lane which eleven-year-old Lettie Hempstock declared was an ocean but to be honest it looked just like a pond. And Lettie Hempstock looked just like an eleven-year-old.
It's funny what you forget until something jogs your memory: even Important Stuff can grow cloudy, opaque, or vanish from sight altogether. Sometimes it takes a smell or a sound - and especially a song - but in this case it takes a subconscious detour during a drive that leads the adult narrator to the ocean at the farm at the end of the lane of the house which he grew up in.
This was when he was seven; after the kitten he was given as a birthday present was run over a mere month later during the arrival of the family's new lodger; after their car was discovered at the end of that lane with something deeply unpleasant inside it.
That was when the narrator first met the Hempstocks: young Lettie, Mrs Hempstock, and Old Mrs Hempstock who lived on the farm, milked the cows and made tasty and traditional meals like porridge and shepherd's pie and spotted dick with the creamiest custard. For breakfast his father burned toast.
But there was something odd about the pond, something other about Hempstocks, and soon there was something very wrong within the young lad's family.
It's funny what you forget. Now it's all come flooding back.
I'm a very slow reader; I never learned how to speed-read nor would I care to, and when the hardcover appeared there were so many graphic novels coming out which demanded and deserved our attention that I couldn't find time to read prose. My loss: this is magical.
The novel is set both when and indeed where I grew up: during the late sixties, at a farm at the end of a lane with my mother and grandparents. I used to love mucking out the shippens. I had a child's fascination with cowpats, their textures etc. A midden is where the slurry ends up and my uncle fell in once, eww.
It's all here: the early morning milking, creaming off the top, the silver-gleaming milk churns hoisted onto a raised platform at the right height to be collected later by lorries.
There's much more besides if you didn't grow up on a farm: pre-decimalisation calculation (always with reference to how many sweet chews you could buy); successfully picking out verrucas with the point of a metal compass when all modern medicine had failed; being scared of eating meals outside your own home in case you didn't like and yet had to eat them; secret ways in and out of your garden which adults wouldn't even know about; failing to be the sporty son your father actually wanted; younger siblings who got to watch the telly they wanted (or didn't even, particularly) at your expense.
I'm just picking out the bits I recognised while subconsciously, I'm sure, ignoring that which I didn't. You'll have a different list of your own: night terrors, car smells, comics brought home by your Dad.
All these familiar elements are either set out as standard or woven into a new context as Gaiman gradually glides the everyday into the other whilst retaining the recognisable characteristics of a child's cognitive process: what would seem odd and what wouldn't.
I have given far less away than the dustjacket, but then I've only just read the dustjacket sleeve. I went in knowing nothing and I recommend you do the same. It's not as if Neil needs prove himself now: you either trust him or you don't.
The one thing I would say is this: your home is or should be your castle.
Even if you're not its queen or king as an adult aspires to be, it is still where you feel safest. It is your home territory, both familiar and comforting, and there can never be anywhere you should feel more safe and secure than in the loving arms of your mother or father.
So imagine if it wasn't.