Thursday, May 8, 2008

"We're going to exorcise it"


The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones is an oddity, even by the woman's own standards. For one thing, it actually has somewhat of a clear cut ending. And if you're familiar with Diana's work, you'll know that getting a straight conclusion out of her is as elusive as getting Kiera Knightley to put on two pounds.

The Time of the Ghost is marketed as a novel for "older readers", meaning that it's a little darker, more twisted, gore-ish and with the more adolescent elements of crushes and infatuations (often the more dangerous kind). The whole thing is told from the point of view of a ghost. This ghost, far from being angry or tortured, is simply painfully confused. It doesn't know how it died, why it died, who she was or why she has ended up where she has. The only thing she seems convinced about is that she must be one of the four Melford sisters, whose parents run a private boarding school for boys in the English countryside. The ghost in question continues to observe the four sisters, almost in stalker-fashion, trying to find any spark of recognition or a clue that may let her know which sister she was while alive. And I'll have to end it there. It would be disgustingly improper of me to divulge any more of the plot than I already have. Like I've said before, the pure joy and thrill of reading a Diana Wynne Jones novel that you know nothing about, save for the blurb on the back cover, is discovering the plot on your own. Nobody weaves a plot quite like Jones, I think. Even in one of her shortest books, she manages to find a way to thoroughly befuddle the reader, using her good old ace up the sleeve ; the concept of time travel, which she utilises in a completely fresh way.

Another aspect in which Jones excels herself this time around is through her characters. Having less than a dozen main characters, all entirely non-magical, totally normal homo sapiens, and it would be a pretty mammoth task to make each of them rich, memorable, unique and entirely themselves, as well as having their own quirks and tangled relationship dynamics with each other. But she pulls it off admirably, producing what I believe to be her single strongest cast of characters yet. Her descriptions of them, physical and otherwise, are so powerful, and have such an impact on the imagination, that all their little quirks and characteristics stay with you long after you've closed this book and started on something else.


Yet another aspect of The Time of the Ghost is the stark imagery, and the constant sense of underlying danger and foreboding, and also the knowledge that since there is a ghost floating around, has the worst scenario already happened or is there still a way to undo whatever doom awaits the ghost, whoever she is? Scenes like the exorcism with the knobbly blue candle, the Scrabble game, the sacrifice of the chicken, Cart's cornflake mayhem, and Fenella waving a carving knife with her hair tied in bloody knots are the kind of thing that will stay burned in your mind for months and months.
You had also better be sure that since she is generous enough to provide us with a relatively straight ending, that the road to that ending will be as confusing, ambigous and as littered with vague symbolism as possible.
All in all The Time of the Ghost comes highly recommended, and is living literary proof that sometimes the best things come with the smallest page count.

6 comments:

Wierdo said...

sounds...freaky. i'd read it, except i don't want to be haunted by images at night.

call me a chicken.....


that didn't make sense.
blah

Wierdo said...

sounds...freaky. i'd read it, except i don't want to be haunted by images at night.

call me a chicken.....


that didn't make sense.
blah

International Mastermind said...

Going to go get it now!!!!!

Sounds AH-mazing.

Bloody Awful Poetry said...

weirdo - Oh you should totally get it! The reading experience is worth all the scary images at night, promise.

IM- Right yoo are! Right now! It is most amayzing indeed.

Random Irregular said...

My library doesn't have this one.
:(

Tweetie said...

As a big fan of DWJ's books, i picked it up knowing nothing more about the book than what was written on the blurb.

I've just finished reading it. It was a lot darker than i expected. Also, since i always read before going to bed...i was also a lot more scared than i expected. But overall, a very enjoyable read. :)