Tag Archives: Diana Wynne Jones

Saturday Book Review – ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’

There’s a reason I’m choosing to review Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle on this particular day. It has nothing to do with a new release, or a new edition, or anything like that – this book was first published in the mid 1980s, and it has since been made into an animé and all manner of fan-art and such – but because I’m meeting someone very important later who admitted to me a few weeks ago that they had never read it.

I was like: ‘Come again?’

They’ve never read the story of Howell Jenkins Pendragon, and of the young-old Sophie, and her body-swapping sisters Lettie and Martha, and the seven-league boots, and the Witch of the Waste?

‘Ridiculous,’ I said. ‘We’re fixing that, asap.’

But in the meantime, I’m writing a review in order to whet this person’s appetite to finally read this masterpiece of children’s literature (I’m sure you’ve all read it, of course, so you’ll just have to bear with me. Can you stand it?)

Diana Wynne Jones’ work falls into a couple of camps, for me. I either love her books with a shattering passion, pressing them into the hands of passersby, weeping about them in my private moments, and all that sort of fangirl-y stuff, or I’m left going ‘meh’. The Chrestomanci series, about the wizards of Caprona, for instance, delights most people but leaves me utterly unmoved. Eight Days of Luke is a book I thought I’d love, given that its central character is – whoops! I nearly gave it away! – but I didn’t think much of it. I read The Merlin Conspiracy recently and enjoyed the story, but holy heck it dragged on far too long and didn’t need all the pages upon pages of exposition and description.

Then there are books like Enchanted Glass, and Fire and Hemlock, and A Tale of Time City, and The Power of Three, and Howl’s Moving Castle. These are the books I dream about. These are the types of books I aspire to create. These books are, for me, examples of masterful literature which just happens to be written for young readers. It’s funny how an author I love so much divides me so completely, but there you have it.

Howl’s Moving Castle is the story of Sophie Hatter and her sisters Lettie (the pretty one, in the middle, destined never to amount to much) and Martha (the youngest, destined for an easy life and a good marriage). Sophie, as the eldest, knows she is destined for a hard-scrabble life where she must set forth and try to make her fortune. The girls and their parents live in the land of Ingary, you see, where magic is real and fairytales are a way of life, and these roles for the sisters seem entirely natural. When their father dies, the girls are apprenticed – Sophie stays at home and learns to be a milliner, Lettie is sent to the local pastry shop, and Martha to a witch to learn her trade. They all do well; Sophie begins, gently, to weave spells into the hats she makes, and Martha and Lettie discover how a little magic can go a long way.

And then the wizard Howl, in his tall black castle which never stays still, comes to town.

Howl is reputed to eat the hearts of young girls, and his power is said to be vast. His castle is as frightening as he, even though nobody seems to know what he looks like or who he is. While he is in town, Sophie meets with the Witch of the Waste, who has taken umbrage at Sophie’s attempts to work magic, and she is placed under a spell which changes her appearance utterly – and part of the spell is that she can’t tell anyone she’s under it. In desperation, she sets out to try to seek her fortune and find a solution to her problem and – of course – she encounters Howl’s castle. Because the spell has changed Sophie into a 90-year-old woman, she looks up at this place, which had frightened her so much as a younger woman, and thinks ‘Heck. What’s the worst this whipper-snapper can do to me?’ and decides to go up and let herself in. Plus, she figures Howl is the only person she knows of whose magic is equal to the Witch of the Waste’s, and maybe he can set her right once again.

Thus begins an adventure which is so charming, so clever, and so downright funny that I can’t recommend it highly enough. Like all DWJ books the plot gets a bit twisty and you need to keep your head straight to figure everything out (she’s the queen of making tiny references to stuff early in a story which turn out to be massively significant at the end, and if you’re anything like me you’ll be flicking back and forth here to check you’ve got the right end of the stick!), but I just love this book. I love Howl and Sophie, and I love how Sophie’s perspective on the world changes when the spell makes her old, and I love her bravery and resourcefulness and determination. I adore Howl, too. DWJ once gave an interview in which she said girls all over the world had contacted her after this book was published wondering if they could marry Howl, which will tell you all you need to know about him. It’s a brilliant book, definitely one of my favourites, and if you haven’t read it (not looking at anyone in particular…) then sort it out, sharpish.

Image: thebooksmugglers.com

Image: thebooksmugglers.com

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Almost Put Down (But Didn’t)

Last night, about 2 a.m., our fire alarm started to go bip every thirty seconds. Just out of the blue, you know? Like it was lonely, and wanted to sing itself a little song. Anyway, it dragged the Husband and I out of a sleep which was, until that point, deep as oblivion. There followed nearly an hour of trying to figure out what the heck was wrong and how to fix it without setting off either a) the fire alarm proper or b) the house alarm – which wouldn’t have made us very popular with our neighbours or, indeed, each other.

So, we woke this morning feeling rather worse for wear.

Artist: Charles M. Shulz Image sourced: biblioklept.org

Artist: Charles M. Shulz
Image sourced: biblioklept.org

As a direct result of this (and the fact that all the writing I’ve done over the past twenty-four hours has either been on social media or in preparation for the Date with an Agent event this weekend, which I’ll be attending), today’s blog post is a Top Ten Tuesday, hosted as ever by the fine folks at The Broke and the Bookish.

The theme this week is:

Top Ten Books I Almost Put Down (But Didn’t)

1. The Divergent Trilogy (Veronica Roth)

I wrote a bit about these books on the blog when I read them and I went through the issues I had with them, particularly with book one, Divergent. While the books did improve a bit as they went on, I found the voice (or rather ‘voices’, because there were supposed to be more than one) in book three (Allegiant) to be a challenging read. Some of the illogical bits in the first book did get explained by the end, but I found myself no warmer towards the characters at the end than I was at the beginning. I finished these books because they’d been blockbuster smash hits and I wanted to see if I was missing anything, but also because they were a birthday gift. I feel awful including them in this list because of that fact, but there you have it.

Image: yabookreviewer.wordpress.com

Image: yabookreviewer.wordpress.com

2. The Maze Runner Trilogy (James Dashner)

I don’t want to say too much about these, because I’ll be reviewing them on Saturday. Let’s just say I was challenged to read them, and that was one of the main reasons I didn’t fling them against the nearest wall.

3. Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman)

Well. Isn’t this a surprise? Did you think a Neil Gaiman book would turn up on a list like this? I bet you didn’t.

Image: genreforjapan.com

Image: genreforjapan.com

Now, nobody who reads this blog is unaware of my adoration for Neil Gaiman. However, it is the truth that Anansi Boys was a challenge, and the only reason I finished it was (of course) because it was a Neil Gaiman book. I didn’t like the characters, I think – it’s been almost ten years since I read this book, and I only read it once. Something about the sheer nastiness in the story put me off. I appreciate it’s about a trickster god and, common misperceptions about Loki aside, they’re not generally very nice individuals, but still. I might give Anansi Boys another go in a year or two and see if I’ve grown into it.

4. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones)

I had never heard of this until one day, while looking up a Diana Wynne Jones book for a customer in the bookshop in which I used to work, I came across it. I read the title out in surprise, and the customer said ‘Oh, haven’t you read that one? Give it a go, it’s great.’ I immediately ordered it for myself (this was the only drawback to working in a bookshop, for my bank balance at least), and when it arrived I was delighted.

Image: books4yourkids.com

Image: books4yourkids.com

However, I began to read it as soon as I got home and – bleh. The humour didn’t grab me, the concept behind the book (a sort of spoof travel guide to a generic ‘Fantasyland’, which pitilessly lampoons the conventions of fantasy writing) left me cold and I found it boring. So, I did put it down – for a while. I came back to it a few months later, though, possibly in a better frame of mind, and read it cover to cover with huge delight.

The customer was right: it is great. I’m glad I gave this one another chance.

5. Red Shift (Alan Garner)

Have I taken leave of my senses, I hear you ask? A book by my all-time literary hero Alan Garner is on a list of books I almost didn’t finish?

Well, yes.

Image: freebooknotes.com

Image: freebooknotes.com

Alan Garner is an immensely intelligent man, and he brings that intelligence to his writing. His books can often be twisty, complex, filled with scientific, cosmological and philosophical ideas. All this is wonderful, of course, and I’m normally all over it. But, somehow, in Red Shift it’s just a little too much for me. I have read this book four times, with difficulty, and I don’t think I’ve ever understood it. It tells a time-slip story where three periods of history are interconnected through a Stone Age axehead, an artifact which is important to all the characters despite the fact that they are separated by hundreds of years. It’s a marvel of imagination and language, and I have been meaning to give it another go. Perhaps I’ve finally grown a big enough brain to finally be able to read it all, start to finish, without stopping.

6. Gold Dust (Geraldine McCaughrean)

I love Geraldine McCaughrean, too. She’s a legend in children’s books. I feel almost like I’m letting off fireworks in a church just by saying that I came within a hair’s breadth of not finishing one of her novels, but I cannot lie. Gold Dust just didn’t work for me. I didn’t enjoy the voice, or the story, or the characters. I’m sorry about it, though, if that helps.

7. The Last Four Things (Paul Hoffman)

I picked up this book because I thought, stupidly, that it would be about ‘the four last things’ – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – of medieval eschatology. It’s not, of course. It’s about a character named Thomas Cale and his induction into a shady secret society whose aim it is to bring the world to an end. I finished it only because I bought it on honeymoon and it has sentimental value; if this wasn’t the case, it’d have ended up in a second-hand shop a long time ago.

8. The Vision of Piers Plowman (William Langland)

Image: hachette.com.au

Image: hachette.com.au

Right, so this is a text I had to read for college; I fought it all the way, though. It’s possibly my least favourite of all the books (technically, it’s a long poem) I had to read for my studies and I freely admit I only finished it because I had to. Having said that, I appreciate it as a masterwork of allegory and symbolism, but holy heck is it hard.

If any of my old students are reading this, disregard the last few sentences. I read this because it’s a work of genius and everything I told you in class about how great it is is completely, one hundred percent true. All right? Good.

9. Tristram Shandy (Laurence Sterne)

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a crazy thing. Filled with exaggeration, digression, tangents which ramble on not for pages but for entire volumes, pages which are left blank, taking its sources from all over the place, and some of the most refreshing language of its age, it’s almost like a book that should have been written during the postmodern era. It’s insane. It’s hard to read. But it’s worth the struggle. It dates from the mid-eighteenth century and even the language is a challenge to modern eyes, but I’m glad it’s under my belt.

10. Every Dead Thing (John Connolly)

I am a huge John Connolly fan – now. At the time I first began to read his work, it was almost too much for me; too creepy, too scary, too gory, too everything. A friend recommended him, and so I bought the first four of his Charlie Parker novels, beginning with Every Dead Thing. It took me four attempts to finish it, but after that I was on a roll. I ripped through the rest of Connolly’s work, and I’ve been a religious collector of his books ever since. Genius. But scary.

Image: johnconnollybooks.com

Image: johnconnollybooks.com

So, that’s me. Care to share your own top ten list of books you almost put down – but didn’t?

Book Review Saturday – The Islands of Chaldea

I know, I know – I reviewed a Diana Wynne Jones book a couple of weeks ago. But, to be entirely fair, there’s no such thing as too much Diana Wynne Jones. And this, her last book, was always going to be one for me.

Image: readeroffictions.com

Image: readeroffictions.com

By now, perhaps you know the story behind this book – DWJ became very ill during the writing of it, and died with it partly finished, whereupon her sister Ursula was asked to complete it – but, even if things hadn’t worked out like this, and Diana had had a chance to finish it the way she wanted to, I would have been excited to read it. Sometimes, I feel that DWJ can be a little hit-and-miss for me: I love some of her books with the entirety of my heart, and others leave me a bit cold and confused (I don’t really ‘get’ the Chrestomanci books, for instance, which other readers adore); however, she’s always worth the read, and that’s the beauty of her work.

‘The Islands of Chaldea’ tells the story of Aileen, a young trainee Wise Woman from the island of Skarr. Her aunt Beck is the island’s last remaining Wise Woman, and the book opens with Aileen’s initiation, which she is convinced she failed. She doesn’t have the usual reaction to the ceremony, she has no visions, and she tells herself her magic is weak or non-existent. After her aunt Beck, the magic in her family will be gone – or so Aileen thinks.

Summoned to an unexpected audience with King Kenig, the ruler of Skarr, Beck and Aileen are dumbfounded when they are told they are to mount an expedition to discover the reason behind a giant invisible barrier in the sea between the islands of Skarr, Gallis and Bernica (the Islands of Chaldea), and the larger island of Logra, which has been impossible to reach for over ten years. Nobody understands why, or how, this has happened, and it is up to Beck and Aileen, and their band of unlikely helpers, to figure it out. Not only that, but the prince of Chaldea – Alasdair, the son of the High King Farlane – was taken through a sort of magical wormhole to Logra about a year after the barrier went up, and he hasn’t been seen since. It is believed that the magicians of Logra have devised this unbeatable barrier in order to set about creating weapons, unobserved by anyone from the rest of the archipelago, and fears of an imminent attack are high.

Ivar, the son of King Kenig and Queen Mevenne, is sent along with Beck and Aileen. With them goes Ogo, a young man of Logra who was stranded on Skarr when the barrier went up.

Image: brandondorman.com Artist: Brandon Dorman

Image: brandondorman.com
Artist: Brandon Dorman

On the way, they stop off at a partially sunk island named Lone, where they come across a strange cat which can appear and disappear at will, and which seems strangely attached to Aileen. He is immediately christened ‘Plug-Ugly’. In the land of Bernica, they meet a monk called Finn who has a parrot named Green Greet, who is far more than he seems. And, in Gallis – the land of Aileen’s father – they meet some of her cousins, one of whom has a pet lizard, who then comes along for the ride.

It seemed clear to me that the islands were supposed to be the British Isles – Skarr being Scotland, Logra England, Bernica Ireland and Gallis Wales – and that gave me a lot of joy as I read (though I could have done without the obligatory ‘leprechaun’ reference as they journey through Bernica.) The animals they collect upon the way are important to the story, of course, but they also have a symbolic resonance. I found the plot to be simple and gentle, with a distinct lack of peril – I’m not saying this is a bad thing, by the way – mainly because it was narrated in a way which made it very clear that Aileen is recalling past events. This removes part of the sense of danger and tension, but also makes the narration ebb and flow, just like the reader is on board the ship beside the characters, bobbing up and down on the ocean waves.

Parts of the book are very funny – particularly the scene where aunt Beck is attempting to air out her clothing to rid it of bad magic, which involves pegging her underwear all over the ship – and, in parts, the dialogue is well-written and well-conceived. At other points, however, Aileen’s dialogue in particular sounds a little clunky and the overall tone is a little toothless. As well as that, at times it appeared that some of the plot points hung on coincidence, or some of the challenges facing the characters were very simply overcome, which took away from my total enjoyment of the book. I admit to finding the ending very ‘smooth’ and neat – so, in other words, very different from DWJ’s normal style which is, sadly, only to be expected – and, for all these reasons, ‘The Islands of Chaldea’ isn’t up there with ‘A Tale of Time City’ or ‘Hexwood’ or ‘Enchanted Glass’ as my favourites of her middle grade books. Because of the fact that it was her last, however, and it was the book that was on her mind as she faced her end, and it was lovingly finished by her sister who (if her Afterword is any indication) had very little to go on when she picked up the reins, I will always cherish it.

So, it’s a definite recommendation from me, if you’re a Diana Wynne Jones fan. If you haven’t read her before, though, I’d recommend ‘Enchanted Glass’ or perhaps even her famous ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ as an introductory book.

And – as ever – if you’ve read any of the books I’ve mentioned in this post, I’d love to hear what you thought!

Five Times Five

Mesdames et Messieurs,

Please find hereunder my version of this splendid post, which I saw for the first time on the blog of the marvellous Lady Rara Saur (who, in turn, snaffled it from here.) It asks one to detail one’s top five preferences in five different categories and so – me being me – I had to have a crack at it. I love making lists, particularly if they’re not lists of things I have to get done. (Having said that, I like making To-Do Lists, too, because I’m the type who likes to tick stuff off when it’s completed. But anyway.)

On with the show.

Tap-tap-tap Hello? Image: chazzw.wordpress.com

*Tap-tap-tap* Hello? Is this thing on?
Image: chazzw.wordpress.com

Five Things I Am Passionate About

1. Writing and Reading. I’m lumping these in together because, in my mind, you can’t have one without the other.

2. Child protection – whether that be on an individual, personal basis or a governmental/NGO/macro level. I want to live in a world where no child knows fear, or want, or hunger, or neglect. I want to be part of making that world.

3. Education – particularly literacy and numeracy. I’d love to see the fostering of a culture where education is seen as something to be striven for, and where people are encouraged to be proud of their own academic ambitions. The more widely read we are, the less likely we are to repeat the mistakes of our past, and the more likely we are to accept others for who they are.

4. Living ‘small’ – by which I don’t mean living a lesser life. I mean living a life wherein love, and family, and community, and togetherness, matter more than who has the biggest house or the most expensive car or the ‘best’ job. Whatever happened to happiness?

5. Equality. Peoples, races, nations, genders (all of ’em)… we’re all the same, beneath the skin. It amazes me how people think they’re different from, and therefore better than, people in other countries/other religious groups/other types of relationship. Why can’t we all just get a grip, and put the fear aside?

Five Things I Would Like To Do Before I Die

1. See my work published. I would love to see one of my books, battered and dog-eared and torn and cherished and loved and read to shreds, in the hands of a child. It might take the rest of my life, but hopefully it’ll happen someday.

2. Visit Iceland, and see the Northern Lights. Just – because.

Image: theguardian.com

Image: theguardian.com

3. Live in Paris, even if it’s only for a little while. I can’t imagine anything more wonderful than slipping down the boulevard for a few pains au chocolat and slipping back home again, looking chic and nonchalant and exuding sangfroid, and actually locking your own front door behind you. Of course, knowing Paris, you’d have to walk up sixteen flights of stairs to a garret room for which you’d be paying through the nose in council tax, etc. – but it would be so worth it.

4. Repay my husband, my family and my friends for all the support – both practical and spiritual – they’ve given me all through my life, but particularly since I decided to follow my dream. I don’t think they’ll ever know how much it means.

5. Reach a moment of total mental satisfaction, knowing that I have done what I was put on earth to do and that I have done it as well as I possibly could, just once.

Five Things I Say A Lot

1. ‘Sorry!’ (I’m the kind of person who, when they walk into a door, will apologise to the door. Yup.)

2. ‘I forgotted.’ (This is the way I tell my husband that I have forgotten something. I try to make it sound cute, in order to cut through the irritation. Weirdly, when it comes to dates, anniversaries, phone numbers, birthdays, significant events and so on, I have a memory like a steel trap. For practicalities, I am useless. Go figure.)

3. ‘Ya big eejit’ (Irish for ‘You rather foolish person.’ Normally, this is self-directed, but it can also be used as a term of both abuse and affection to almost anyone.)

4. ‘Ah, no worries, I’ll be grand. I’m sure they can make something for me.’ (Usually recited when I’m about to go out for food, anywhere, and whoever I’m dining with starts fretting about whether or not my ‘dietary requirements’ will be catered for. As a vegetarian, I still get looked at like a space alien when I ask what a restaurant’s meat-free options are. ‘Well, we have salmon,’ I get told, a lot. ‘Salmon’s a living creature too, you know,’ doesn’t usually go down well as a response, FYI.)

5. ‘Feck!’ or some derivative thereof. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a vile swearword; it’s equivalent to ‘darn’ or ‘poppycock’, and is utterly inoffensive. I have a variety of colourful phrases which would be considered vile, but I’ll leave those to your imagination.

Five Books or Magazines I’ve Read Recently

1. Fire and Hemlock by the goddess that was Diana Wynne Jones (It’s a book.  It’s Awesome. Technically, this was a re-re-reread, but that hardly matters.)

2. An old copy of New Scientist (one of the benefits of being married to a nerdy-type.)

3. The Food supplement from the Guardian newspaper (I’m always on the hunt for recipes.)

4. ‘The Pardoner’s Prologue’ and ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’ from The Canterbury Tales. Someone was writing an essay on it and needed a bit of guidance, and it was nice to blow the dust off my PhD for a few hours.

5. The Skull in the Wood by Sandra Greaves. (It’s a book. It’s Awesome.)

Five Favourite Movies

1. The Princess Bride. Gotta be. ‘No more rhyming now, I mean it!/Anybody want a peanut?’ used to make me laugh to the point of puking when I was a kid. I also love Miracle Max and his ‘I’m not a witch! I’m your wife!’ But the main reason I love this movie can be summed up in two words: Inigo Montoya. My crush on Mandy Patinkin is alive and well to this day.

2. Willow. I’m really not sure what my favourite thing about this film is – the gorgeous baby who played Elora Dannan (who’s probably got babies of her own by now), the wonderful Ufgood family, the devil-may-care Madmartigan (for whom I may have had complicated feelings, looking back), or the scary-as-all-hell witch-queen Bavmorda who literally gave me the freaky collywobbles for years.

3. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. This movie defined my teenage-hood. Claire Danes? Leo di Caprio? Rock music soundtrack? Hells, yes. It’s also the first movie I saw on my own in a cinema, which gives it extra significance.

4. Life is Beautiful. I have complicated feelings about this one, insofar as I loved it when I saw it, but I’d never be able to watch it again because my first viewing of it almost killed me. Suffice to say everyone should give it a go, but be aware that it will break your heart.

Image: snarksquad.com

Image: snarksquad.com

5. The Never-Ending Story. I watched this one again a couple of years ago and wept, not only because it’s still a gorgeous movie but because it reminded me of my childhood so much. The bit where Atreyu is on board Falcor and they fly around a piece of space-rubble and the Ivory Tower comes into view and the music just swells up… yeah. I generally get something in my eye around that point.

So! There you have it. If anyone wants to take part in this meme, be sure to link back to Benzeknees – and let me know, too! I’d love to read your answers to these questions. Adios!

 

Book Review Saturday – ‘Fire and Hemlock’

In honour of the fact that Diana Wynne Jones’ final novel, the posthumous ‘The Islands of Chaldea‘ (co-written with, and completed by, her sister Ursula) is being published this week, I decided that today’s book review was going to focus on the novel which is, in my opinion, the finest of Wynne Jones’ amazing canon. That book is ‘Fire and Hemlock.’

Image: leafsreviews.wordpress.com

Image: leafsreviews.wordpress.com

Some years ago, I was at an academic conference which focused on the retelling of stories – in other words, the differences between versions of tales over time, or between translations from one language into another, or when a tale is used as a basis for another story entirely. The best paper by far at that conference was given by a woman who compared the medieval Scottish ballad of ‘Tam Lin’ to ‘Fire and Hemlock.’ Her paper made such an impression on me that I immediately noted the name of the book and resolved to track it down. I couldn’t believe that, as a huge DWJ fan, I’d never heard of ‘Fire and Hemlock’ and – even better – it sounded amazing.

In short – it is.

Diana Wynne Jones was, as far as I know, married to a prominent medievalist. It makes sense, then, that her work would be informed by a sensitivity to that era and its literature, but this book displays that sensitivity more than any other. It is deeply influenced by ‘Tam Lin’, and also by ‘Thomas the Rhymer‘, and by any number of medieval romances in which a knight errant finds himself in Fairyland, is seduced by the powerful and jealous Queen and kept there as a prize, only to be won back by the bravery of a human woman prepared to sacrifice everything for him. That basic plot is the spine of ‘Fire and Hemlock,’ but a reader doesn’t need to be aware of the book’s influences to enjoy the story. ‘Fire and Hemlock’ is so much more than a retelling of a dusty old tale. It is a book unlike any other I’ve read, and it has a unique power.

The novel introduces us to Polly Whittacker, at nineteen, who is packing up her stuff in order to leave for college – or, at least, she’s supposed to be packing her stuff. Really, she’s reading a story entitled ‘Two-Timer’ in a book called Time Out of Mind, about a character with the power to go back into their own childhood and change the way their life works out. In the course of taking a break from her book, her eye falls on a picture she loved as a child, but which she is no longer terribly fond of. It’s entitled ‘Fire and Hemlock,’ and she wonders why it meant so much to her, once. She also wonders why she feels a lot like the character in her book, as though she has half-remembered memories of a life, a different life, one that she feels sure she’s lived through simultaneously with her own. All these thoughts coalesce as she gazes at the image, and she has a sudden moment of realisation. Out of the blue, she remembers gatecrashing a funeral at the age of ten, at which she met a charismatic man named Thomas Lynn.

But Thomas Lynn is a man whom nobody else remembers. A man who, it seems, may never have existed at all. So why does Polly remember him so clearly, now that she has resurrected the memory?

Well. That all depends on what world she’s living in.

Artist: Emma Jane Falconer. Colour risograph print. Image sourced: wemakezines.ning.com

Artist: Emma Jane Falconer. Colour risograph print.
Image sourced: wemakezines.ning.com

The plot of the book is rich, intertextual, and complex. It is, as I’ve said, based around the core concepts found in its medieval analogues – a person lost to one world, found by the love of a person willing to go to any lengths to get them back – but there is also an element of ‘quantum’ going on here. The idea of ‘other worlds’, existing side by side or in layers of reality, is found too; the book explores the idea that if a person decides to tell their own story differently, they can change the world in which they live. Stories and words shape reality, literally as well as figuratively. One of the central images from the book is that of a pair of large stone vases in the grounds of the large house in which the aforementioned funeral was held; both of them are adorned with the word ‘Nowhere’, but in such a way that a viewer can never see the whole word all at once. Each vase rotates on its base, one freely and one rather more stiffly, and when they are rotated, different combinations of the letters are revealed.  Wynne Jones uses these words in so many ways to suggest the layers of reality in her novel – ‘Now Here’, ‘No Where,’ ‘Nowhere,’ ‘Here Now’ – and the book, accordingly, has a dreamy feel at times, a hazy sense of reality slipping away and being remade as you read. It’s remarkable.

I love books in which the characters’ names are important. Thomas (or Tom) Lynn is clearly ‘Tam Lin’, the stolen hero; his dangerous ex-wife Laurel is named for the astringent, powerfully flavoured plant which, interestingly, is known as Laurus nobilis in the Latin. When one realises that she is an analogue to the powerful, seductive and exquisitely dangerous Fairy Queens of lore, this name becomes even more meaningful. Polly Whittacker, whose name conjurs up images of the ‘white acre’ (with its nuances of purity and the land), is unquestionably the heroine whose humanity is the key to salvation.There are loads of other nerdy connections that can be drawn between characters and their names, and the placenames Wynne Jones chooses, and if one has a knowledge of the texts she’s referencing it only adds to the richness of the book.

I loved the way Wynne Jones handles Polly’s relationship with Thomas Lynn. I can’t say too much, because I would hate to give away even a crumb of the brilliance of it, but let’s just say: it’s out of the ordinary. It’s unexpected. It’s wonderful.

And then, that ending. That ending. About which I’m giving away exactly nothing. It will leave you breathless with admiration and lost for words, and also – quite possibly – scratching your head in confusion, but that is why I love it so much.

This book is nothing short of a masterpiece. However, as it was originally published in 1985, I found it hard to come by when I bought the copy I now own. I’m not sure if it’s still in print, but if you are ever lucky enough to come across it, I strongly recommend you give it a try.

For what better way to pay homage to Diana Wynne Jones than by keeping her words alive?

Diana Wynne Jones, 1934-2011 Image: theguardian.com

Diana Wynne Jones, 1934-2011
Image: theguardian.com

Have a storyful weekend!