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Book: The Time Of The Ghost

February 19, 2011
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(PS: I hate this cover. If this had been the cover for the edition I read, I wouldn’t have picked it up. Publishers: take note.)

More Diana Wynne Jones! Apparently this is one of her lesser books, but if so, then I can’t wait to read some of her better ones, because I really liked this. (I am on a total book roll… yay! it’s about time)

The book opens with a ghost drifting through the countryside, not sure of who she is or what happened, or why she is a ghost, or even if she IS a ghost. It’s all a little puzzling until she comes across a boarding school and starts to recognize bits and pieces, and then it all starts to fall into place.

Four odd sisters live with their harried and neglectful parents at the boys boarding school, which the parents run. The school keeps the parents so busy that they barely pay any attention to the girls, who sometimes have no food because their parents forgot to provide dinner (their kitchen doesn’t even have a stove, so they can’t make dinner for themselves). It’s all rather bohemian-squalor, but you can read between the lines and see how lonely and neglected the girls are. They hatch a plan for one of the sisters to disappear, to see if the parents notice that she is gone. Somehow, the plan goes all wrong, and one of the sisters ends up as the ghost. But when does she end up as a ghost, and which sister is it? And is there a chance to save her, after all?

As the story progresses, we start to learn more about the family and the girls, all of whom seem fairly monstrous most of the time. Their characters are exaggerated, dramatic. One isn’t quite sure if they are fully human — perhaps part evil fairy? Perhaps this is a story about a half-goblin family? But no, they are human, and over time their better qualities come to light as well. In a family with four girls (one gets the impression that they range in age from about 10 to perhaps 15), you are going to get dramatics, and the Melford girls (Selina, Charlotte, Imogen and Fenella) provide dramatics in spades. The ghost sort of hates them all, and the reader does as well.

One sister is missing: Sally. What happened to her? Did her sisters kill her? Is she the ghost? What happened to her?

Upon reflection, there are lots of questions that don’t get answered in this book. Everyone’s characters are fairly flawed, and you aren’t quite sure who to root for, until at least halfway through the book, after a botched seance. One isn’t quite sure who the enemy is. And even after we find out, there isn’t much to be done about it. The person doesn’t seem particularly evil, although one knows that they are bad. Maybe that’s the point: lots of times, the evil person in your life doesn’t seem that evil until it’s too late.

Another question that remains unanswered is how the girls’ characters grow and change. Some fairly significant changes happen, but the reasons why are murky. There is a bit of time-travel in the book and perhaps the answer lies in the time we don’t get to know about, but this reader is left with a lot of questions, about why the ghost doesn’t like herself, and what happened to create this awareness, what is she going to do about it? And there are lots of little mysteries along the way as well. As I’m writing this, some of the answers are becoming more clear, but its’ all a bit murky.

Perhaps that’s why this book was so intriguing. It’s definitely YA but quite dark in places — it kept this adult reader completely hooked and wondering about what was going to happen next. There were places where it was much darker than I expected, and I appreciated that. But it’s also very funny and lighthearted in other places, and the characters are so quirky — you know how much I love a good quirky character.

Anyway. I liked this book a lot and am quite pleased with the discovery of Diana Wynne Jones. Isn’t it a wonderful thing that even if you read a ton, there are always new authors to discover, new books you haven’t read, new paths to go down? I’m currently on a huge YA spree and I’m not sure if I”ll review all of the books, but maybe at least just a paragraph or two in case someone else wants to go on a big YA spree. It’s lots of fun and has been a good way to transition from the massive tome of Drood and the Victorian mystery The Moonstone and the heartbreaking (but wonderful) Just Kids. I feel like I’m ready for some good old-fashioned novels and these YA books are cleansing my palate before I move on to my next stage of reading. This feels like a good reading year. Hooray!

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2011 8:32 am

    my goodness you have been plowing through the books lately. amazing.

    the cover of this one is slightly creepy but the story itself sounds intriguing.

    • February 19, 2011 9:36 am

      They’re short, so yeah. Drood wasn’t exactly plowing at over 2 months. Heh.

      The story was good. You might like it — the sisters were very odd.

  2. February 19, 2011 10:33 am

    Well I’m definitely with you where the cover is concerned. What else have you read by Wynne Jones? She is one of my favourite writers and I have to tell you that you will often be uncertain as to who is the goodie and who the baddie. If you haven’t yet tried them then do read the Chrestomanci series, preferably in order starting with ‘Charmed Life’ and aimed at a more YA audience, ‘Hexwood’ and “Fire and Hemlock’. I envy you reading her for the first time.

    • February 19, 2011 7:17 pm

      I haven’t read much by her yet. I read the first two Chrestomanti books, and now this one. I have another one just waiting, I think it’s Fire and Hemlock, or maybe Hexwood? I can’t remember which. So I guess I”m right on track!

  3. February 19, 2011 12:10 pm

    This sounds like an awesome book — despite the flaws you noted. I’m reading some very weird Ruth Rendell right now, but it beats going out to shovel the driveway for the umpteenth time. Dang. More snow here.

    • February 19, 2011 7:18 pm

      It’s almost freezing-rain weather here — rainy and cold and temps dropping quickly! An abrupt change from last week’s hammock weather…

      This was a pretty darn good book — I wasn’t sure about it at first, but then I got *really* into it.

  4. February 20, 2011 2:24 pm

    Aw, I actually like that cover! So glad you’re continuing to enjoy her 🙂

    • February 20, 2011 5:28 pm

      I am! You were where I first read about her, so thank you again Ana!

  5. February 21, 2011 11:19 am

    It is dark, isn’t it? The crazy thing is, I read an autobiographical essay she wrote (it’s on the official Dianna Wynne Jones fan site) and the school situation is based on her own childhood with her sisters!

    I’ve often wondered if the way Jones has always seemed to be get bad covers is why she wasn’t more popular in the states when her books were first written. I think it is hard for publishers to know what kind of art to market her with because her books don’t fall into easy categories.

    • February 21, 2011 5:23 pm

      Wow, that’s amazing. It was a pretty great book and the sisters were fantastically odd. I loved the dark storyline.

      I can totally see that with the covers — she’s totally cross-genre and hard to pigeonhole. I have Fire and Hemlock — can’t wait to start.

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