Book review: A Wrinkle in Time

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This is a warning. If you are an unconditional fan of Madeleine L’Engle, you might prefer to go straight to the poetry section and skip this.

 

I wonder has anyone else had this experience, of rereading a book from childhood, remembering it as one you really loved, and discovering that you don’t really like it at all? A few years ago I gave A Wrinkle in Time to our youngest, shoved it into her reluctant hands with great insistence. “You’ll love it,” I said. “It was one of my favourite books when I was your age.” She flipped through it and abandoned it after the first few chapters.

When I found it in the pile of books for the charity shop, I snatched it back, determined that I would read the poor thing if nobody else wanted to. I settled into it happily enough, remembering the ‘dark and stormy night’, Charles Wallace’s little legs not touching the floor, Meg, ungainly and moody, and mother struggling with household chores, bringing up four kids, and earning a living. I remarked to husband, that this was top-notch children’s writing—great scene setting, atmospheric and endearing. Why couldn’t modern writers use this kind of vocabulary, I enthused, and take a tip from L’Engle and keep school out of it. What normal kid is such a glutton for school that she/he wants to read about it for fun?

My memories ended there: the witches and what comes after had left no mark at all, worse, I was starting to have doubts. For me, it starts to get wobbly when Calvin turns up and I have the impression that rather too much of the attention is diverted away from Meg to him. The impression grows that Meg has been relegated to a spectator role when they set off after the lost father, and she is continually either having her hand held, or being comforted, or supported physically in some way by Calvin. When they go through the wrinkle, it’s Calvin’s hand she holds, not her beloved baby brother’s who she lets drift off into oblivion. She stands between the two boys, having her hand held while the six year-old pipsqueak gives lip to the adults, or Calvin decides what’s best.

Then C.W. drops the ‘Jesus Bomb’ and the wobbling gets critical. When we enter the totalitarian state it’s clear that we have a Cold War line up with God on the side of the good guys and the Dark Fella on the side of the Commie Bastards. When our intrepid threesome, holding hands, tripped their way into Stalin’s office to be interrogated by the KGB, I lost interest.

It was while I was wondering if it were possible to reach into a book and give a kid’s backside a good twilting that I made an unfortunate connection. Is it just me, or do C.W. and Meg bear uncanny resemblances to Stewie and Meg from Family Guy? Is it intentional? Once the idea wormed its way into my head, I’m afraid I was just waiting to discover if their long lost father was going to turn out to be Peter Griffin.

Unfortunately, he’s not. He is boring and slightly wet. Meg has turned into a hysterical fifty year-old, Calvin sulks, and the only good thing is that they’ve dumped the brat in Stalingrad. I don’t care what happens to any of them. I know that there’s going to be a happy ending with angels and flying ‘beings’ and the IT (Lenin aka Satan) will be defeated as a result of the nebulous ‘fighting’ that has been going on by the forces of righteousness, and there will be neither rhyme nor reason to it.

This book has been compared to the Narnia books. Don’t believe it. C.S. Lewis’s writing is beautiful, the plots are well thought out, and his world-building is superb. L’Engle’s world-building is as convincing as the cardboard scenery in a school theatre and the plot is feeble, the language flat and dull. While Narnia’s Christian element is unobtrusive (except to adult readers), A Wrinkle in Time is as subtle as a punch in the face.

I hate writing this, but it has bothered me, having a pleasant memory completely dismantled. Other childhood favourites I have reread with pleasure, but as far as I am concerned, A Wrinkle in Time has had its day, and does not have what it takes to make it a classic.

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Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

26 thoughts on “Book review: A Wrinkle in Time”

  1. The same thing has happened to me, where a beloved tale from my childhood seems weirdly creepy, sexist, or otherwise awful when I re-read it later. Or something I thought was clever and hilarious as a teenager turns out to seem ridiculously juvenile as an adult. It’s heartbreaking, I agree: another variant on the “you can’t go home again” theme.

    1. I read through a lot of amazon reviews to see if it was just me, and there does seem to be a current of opinion that it just isn’t that good. Other books like The Little White Horse I read recently again and loved it. I can still read Narnia with pleasure. They’re just not on the same level. Oh well, as you say, best not to try to go back.

      1. Or maybe the lesson is to check the Amazon reviews first, before trying to go back. Although if I really loved the book as a child, I probably wouldn’t have listened to the reviews anyway. I regularly post glowing reviews of books now that other people hate or just don’t get — or vice versa — so it’s hard to know how to judge it.

      2. I think that’s right. We don’t believe reviews that conflict with our memories. We have to plough through the book again to realise…we should have left well alone.

      1. I remember being really intrigued by the different dimensions when I first read it–at age 9 or 10. Maybe all that did seem really new and unique at the time–and as you said, it was the Cold War, and these kids were going to save their dad against the forces of darkness or whatever.

  2. Thank goodness I’m not the only one who thinks “A Wrinkle In Time” is overrated. It seems the fond memories I have of the book are more about my third grade teacher reading it to us. Watching with fascination as the little girls twirled each other’s hair while listening (I’m sure this is how my romantic poet side got started). I have to wonder HOW the book received the Newbery Metal?? Perhaps it was the background of the judges. Maybe they twirling each other’s hair? 😉

  3. I only read it once and actually was not enthralled but rather, I recall irritated therefore the bratlings did not have it inflicted on them. I can only hope that it doesn’t have one of those curious vintage retro revivals like Bakelite and rag rugs meaning any unborn grandchildren are forced to read it.

    1. You can always put it on an Index. I will now that I’ve inspected it again. Husband was wondering how Swallows and Amazons have withstood the test of time. I’m not sure I want to find out, since I wasn’t smitten first time round.

  4. I didn’t read it when I was younger. In fact, I was in my forties before I got around to it, and I read the entire series. I agree. Overrated. I do especially like the Narnia tales, having re-read them since reading A Wrinkle in Time.

    1. I really don’t understand how it ever won awards, unless it was the cold war link that tapped a need to prove that ‘we can win’. As literature, Narnia is light years ahead. And the first book was written in 1949, an age before Wrinkle.

  5. ugh! That was one of my faves too, when I was about eleven. I loved it because of the witches and the walking about at night imagery. I think it was either required or promoted in grammar school because of it’s “thinking out of the box” aspect; the tesseract was such a neat concept to me!

    1. I actually finished it yesterday evening and the end is a several pages of oh why oh why oh why oh why, followed by love love love love love and bingo, Charles Wallace is sprung, the black thing is defeated and everybody’s back home again in about half a paragraph. Bad writing and wouldn’t convince an averagely street wise six year old.

  6. Oh, dear, I just did the very same thing – got it for my kids because I used to like it as a child. They haven’t read it and I was thinking of rereading, but this has put me off… perhaps I prefer to keep my rose-tinted spectacles on.

  7. Never heard of it. But it’s not going on the TBR pile at that rate. I did like Narnia, probably because I didn’t realise the Xtian influence, just thought Aslan was a cuddly big cat. I liked Swall and Ams too. What I didn’t like was Cider with Rosie, a boring set book at school. Read it a few years back and loved it. Age I guess, but interesting the reverse experience.

    1. I don’t remember making the connection between Aslan and Jesus. I remember not understanding why he had to be killed and if he wasn’t killed what was the point of the operation. But then I never understood (and still don’t) the symbolism behind the crucifixion. Barmy. Husband had the same experience as you with Cider with Rosie. He even read the other Laurie Lee books. I was never tempted.

      1. I just liked the adventures 🙂

        I read his other two books in the trilogy when I re-read Cider and enjoyed those two. That was partly the Spanish setting and civil war period though.

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