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.

In the Hall of the Mountain King

Bernadette at Haddon Musings asked if I would like to post a short excerpt from one of the Tales from the Northlands, so I will. This piece is from In the Hall of the Mountain King. Jussi, youngest son of a fisherman  despairs of marrying Solveig, the blacksmith’s daughter.

Jussi knew perfectly well that he had been foolish to set his heart on Solveig. Her father, the blacksmith, was hoping for a rich son-in-law. But Jussi was counting on Mundi Iron-Hands’ indulgence—that he would never marry off his daughter without her consent. Jussi had always hoped that Solveig liked him enough to insist with her father. But he could never tell with her. He knew she liked him, but she liked other things too. Things Jussi couldn’t give her.

He’d taken his black humour with him to meet Solveig, knew she’d have taken the cows up to the high pasture, out of sight of the blacksmith, his forge and her nosy brothers. He needed to hear her say she would have him whatever fate his father had reserved for him, just to see the light in her eyes and know that she saw deeper than the callouses on his hands and the tears in his kyrtill. He had caught up with her and the red cows but she wouldn’t sit and talk. She was often like that though, always on the move, picking daft flowers or watching the way an amber bead glinted in the sun.

“A fisherman? Don’t make me laugh. You’re a nice boy, Jussi, but you’ll never be more than a poor man, and your wife will spend her life in the stink of fish guts. Her clothes will never be free of the smell, and nor will her husband.

“Is that all you care about? How things smell?” Jussi had asked angrily.

Solveig had laughed, that infuriating, silvery laugh that made the hair at the back of his neck stand on end. “I care about how things smell, and how they look and how they taste. I care about the touch of fine linen against my skin and thick furs to wrap me up warm in winter.” She had spun round, her short cloak flying about her like a banner and revealing the tight corn-coloured plaits wound round her head. “I care about having combs for my hair and necklaces of amber and garnets.” Her face was suddenly serious. “But most of all I care about having a man who will look after me and stay with me, and not leave me a widow with bairns to feed and a cold bed to cry in.”

“But I wouldn’t leave you!” Jussi’s indignation had spilled out on the verge of anger.

“And how many fishermen are swallowed up by the sea? And how many raiders never come home to hear the songs of their exploits?”

“I’d be careful, I’d never take risks.”

Solveig had looked at him with sadness welling up in her eyes. She had reached out and taken his hands in hers. “But you would, because you would have no choice. A fisherman’s life is hard. He must go where the fish shoal. Even when the sea is wild and the winter cold bites, his bairns will need feeding. I won’t love a man to lose him, Jussi. I want to keep him for always.”

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If you’d like to read what happens to Jussi and Solveig, Tales from the Northlands is available at

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

at only 99c/p. A steal 🙂

Shortlisted!

I had a message this morning telling me that I was shortlisted in the Irish Imbas Books Celtic Anthology competition!

http://irishimbasbooks.com/a-long-shortlist-for-the-celtic-mythology-short-story-competition/

I’m thrilled to bits to get this far. This is the kind of story I love writing and it’s so gratifying to know that other people (competition judges, no less) have enjoyed reading it.

I’ll post when I hear who the winners are.

Coming soon…

How soon depends very much on when I get a technical hitch sorted out. This is a collection of five short stories set in the Northlands. Some of you might be aware that my current WIP is an epic saga set in an alternate ninth century with Norsemen, Celts, and a certain monstrous fantasy element. Apart from the monsters, I’ve tried to keep to historical accuracy and have written several stories as spin-offs from my research. The Celtic stories will be for another volume.

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A rickety wooden escalator carries a child from his safe, comfortable world of department store Christmas glitter to the midnight zone inhabited by legendary nightmares.

On the windswept east coast of Northumbria, a Saxon thegn avenges his murdered chief by selling his village to the sea wolves, and a ruthless war leader prepares for battle, gloating over the blood dream sent him by the wicce.

In Viking Sverige, Jussi and Solveig plan a future juggling bride price, parental expectations and the knarr they have yet to acquire, but their future falls beneath the shadow of the mountain.

Antar seems like the answer to Inna’s dream of escaping the bleak steading on the fjord, but her father and his chosen son-in-law have other ideas.

What links these tales is the North Sea that beats the coast, brings the cold and the long ships, laps the winter nights in snow, when the wind howls stories of trolls and giants. It brings the herring, the sea mews and the grey seals, and it joins a people with the same vision of the world—harsh, vivid and full of magic.  

While you’re waiting, why not go to Wild Geese Books and choose something to read?

Lockie

I have just learned via Tricia Drammeh’s blog that a writer friend has died. ‘Lockie’ Young was a kind and courageous man who always found the time to encourage others. He had serious health issues, we knew that, but he talked about them with such light-heartedness that it was easy to forget just how much he had to bear. Thoughts are with his family.

This is an interview he gave for my blog over two years ago.

https://janedougherty.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/the-author-hot-seat-2/

A peaceful end to your journey, Lockie.

Film recommendation

As our Christmas day dribbled away, a film was called for. Son suggested Mad Max: Fury Road. It might seem like a strange choice for the season of Disney and Rogers and Hammerstein, but it looked good to me. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. The plot is simple and straightforward. As son pointed out, even I would have no trouble following it. The visuals are tremendous, the action non-stop, and the scenario is so wildly over the top, the characters so wildly over the top, and the violence so absolutely wildly over the top it’s a really fun film. It has an ethical dimension to it that I enjoyed, and the role of the many women, given that it’s a sort of punk-style post-apocalyptic western, has feminist credibility which I would never give to your average scantily clad warrior woman with big gazongas trope.

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If you like post-apocalyptic this one seems pretty credible to me. The references to Valhalla, the desert scenery, the boys playing at war with their bikes, guns and mad cars, the deformities and the sheer lunacy of most of humanity are images and metaphors that are dear to my heart. I you haven’t seen it; I recommend it.