The narrator has returned to childhood haunts for a funeral. Something draws him down to the end of the lane where an encounter with one of the Hempstock women brings back memories of what happened when he was seven and a suicide let something dangerous enter his world.
There are moments of humor in this child's eye view of incomprehensible reality, and there's always the reassuring presence of the Hempstocks - granny, mother, and daughter. There are echoes of the patterns of myth and folklore in this fairy tale for a modern world. There are lyrical passages as when the narrator enters the ocean that Lettie Hempstock says exists in their farm pond. “I saw the world I had walked since my birth and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality I knew was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.”