Book review: A Wrinkle in Time



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.