on 8 August 2005
The first time I set eyes on this book was when my mother told me to buy it one day. I didn't think much of it at first but as soon as I started reading it, I was absolutely engrossed and stuck on it for a whole day.
It has got to be one of the most beautiful novels I have read in a long time, and the way Diana Wynn Jones writes it so intricately where everything is described in such detail, is such a wonder. It starts out when Polly, a nineteen year old girl, reads a book she is sure was written by a few friends she had met years ago, only to find that their names have completely been erased from it.
She then tries to figure out why she has double memories of each event that took place and which are very important and this brings her on a journey to the past nine years ago on Halloween where she met her lifelong friend, Thomas Lynn.
Together they mae up stories of heroes, giants, horses and other fun dreatures but unfortunately, these come true and that is where the horror starts. Polly later tries to remember what she did wrong and why Tomas Lynn was erased from her memory and what dark secret is behind those double memories.
All in all, it is a marvelous novel and I promise you, head to the nearest and most quiet cafe with this book and by the time you start the first page, you'll be longing for more.
on 30 August 2005
This is my very favourite Diana Wynne Jones book. It starts off deceptively simply, but Diana Wynne Jones slides in layers of complexity with such dexterity that you are soon deep in an old, old magic which has potentially horrifying consequences for Polly, the heroine, and Tom, the hero. I love the unfolding of the story, the gathering knowledge of evil and the incredibly subtle love story. I could - and have - read it over and over again. Each time I get to the end I want to cheer and cry and wish it had gone on longer. Definitely my book for a desert island. Very highly recommended.
on 17 May 2001
Isn't life strange? Diana Wynne Jones has been writing excellent, subtle and thoughtful fantasy fiction for both a younger audience and adults for, well, a while, and yet and yet it is Harry Potter not Christopher Chant who has the merchandising deals.. now I have got that out of the way, I can say, this book is well worth the effort. It requires the reader to really engage with the book but the reward is to feel the depth and reality of the characters. It is the kind of book that does not quite leave you once you have read it - you go back and read it again and discover it is darker, deeper and more magical than you remembered. It is book about forgetting, about love and the power of myth. It is a book about a car, a horse, a girl and a quartet. It is about train journeys that end where they began and about the importance of believing in the person you love. I recommend it to you - only, be warned. I read one Diana Wynne Jones novel and ended up buying pretty much most of her work..
on 9 May 2000
The story of a girl's attempt to remember her true self resonates on many levels. Chilling and exhilarating by turns, Fire and Hemlock is a great read. In fact when I finished it I started immediately to reread the last section, found myself sampling back then just decided to start again. Having discovered Diana Wynne Jones while searching for more interesting replacements for Harry Potter to give my son, I am now hooked. The characters are interesting, sympathetic and convincing. The language is lovely, full of humor. The story is a little complicated for younger kids, but will repay the attention it requires from older kids and adults. Worth many reads!
on 28 November 2008
What I love the most about Fire and Hemlock is that the story works on so many different levels. At its simplest it tells the story of a friendship which exists against the odds (those odds coming in the sinister form of the Leroys). It is also a reworking/reimagination of a Scottish ballad called Tam Lin - a dark faery tale. At its deepest, Fire and Hemlock is a wonderful love story that slowly and subtly develops.
Very brief and simple synopsis (which does the book no real justice!): After accidentally gatecrashing a funeral at Hunsdon House, 10 year old Polly meets Tom Lynne. The two quickly form a very strong friendship; a friendship that Tom's ex-wife and her husband try to thwart at every turn. However, through various means of trickery, the friendship survives and blossoms. Tom is there for Polly as she grows up - acting as a friend and substituting for her (rather useless) parents. Together, Tom and Polly make up stories of how Tom is a hero and Polly his assistance. Eerily, the stories have a nasty habit of coming to life. But why are the Leroys and Laurel trying to prevent Tom from seeing Polly? Shortly after Polly turns 15 and confronts Tom about this, Tom and all memories of him are rather mysteriously wiped from her mind...that is until 4 years later. Now at the age of 19, Polly sets about trying to find out why her greatest friend and all memories of him have disappeared.
Fire and Hemlock is by no means a simple story. It is complex, subtle and beautiful. I have read it several times and each time I have come across something new in the narrative. A real gem.
on 6 November 2006
This is the first DWJ novel I read. It started my looking further for other books by the writer.
Based upon the fairytale Tam Lin - here is a novel for teens full of feelings and emotions that mean something. The heroine as a child walks into (gatecrashes) a funeral and meets the hero Thomas Lynn who makes his mark on her life by regularly sending her books which inspire her into her future university degree course. As she grows older he grows younger, until they meet as adults when the magic becomes essential to saving his life.
I love this story. This is how magic was meant to be. The scenes of deja vu seem familiar. We have all experienced such magic at some time or another. The age gap that narrows is wonderfully expressed.
I believe this is a great book and worthy read for anyone who loves magic and fantasy. I especially love the teapot car- the magic horse- and the deja vu sequences. Read and enjoy- may this read lead adults to more DWJ books, and teens to finding magic in literature and life. May it lead you back to the world of her other books- all uniquely different
on 29 August 2000
I stayed out at lunch an extra quarter of an hour today to finish this book, and read so hard I think I've given myself a headache! You know when your heart is in your mouth and you know you are reading too fast to take in all the details properly, but just NEED to find out what happens? What I immediately wanted to do was to start at least the final section again, as it needs close attention. (If you recognise the above feelings, then you will be delighted by the heroine's similar behaviour after receiving a parcel of paperbacks for Christmas! The author lists many books Polly reads and this literary journey turns out to be important.)
Not many writers would have the courage needed to portray a heroine right from age ten to nineteen in one book, but Diana Wynne Jones has the skill to show all the subtle ways in which Polly changes. I have always tried to search out novels containing 'rights of passage' themes, but this is the most realistic description I've read of the awkwardness of teenage years getting in the way of a girl's true, strong nature, which wins out in the end. Polly suffers a lot of heartache from her parents' marriage breakup and subsequent bad relationships. This both isolates her and throws her onto the company of her sensible grandmother, who knows more than Polly thinks about the dark secrets of Hunsdon House. But she really has to think for herself and keep on her toes to defeat the truly sinister evil characters.
As well as wanting to reread this book to explore its world more thoroughly, I hope you will want, like me, to seek out the old ballads whose words and meanings are woven throughout the story. And was the photograph a real one that the author had seen; did it inspire the whole book? By the way, a part of the book was set in Bristol, where I luckily used to live, so I recognised the descriptions of places and this really enhanced the action for me.
To sum up: a satisfying, exciting, old-fashioned magical adventure with convincing working in of fantasy into real life. If you are browsing for fantasy books for an older child, you should definitely buy this - but you'll have to try not to crease it too much before you let them read it!
This is one of Diana Wynne Jones's most subtle, beautifully written and most adult books. Drawing heavily on two old ballads - 'Thomas the Rhymer' and 'Tam Lin' - it tells the story of Polly, who, as a nine-year-old girl, unhappy at her parents' forthcoming divorce, inadvertently gate-crashes a strange funeral at a grand house. There she befriends Thomas Lynn, a cellist. Despite their age difference - Tom is in his twenties - they become close friends, and make up an elaborate fantasy game together. The game continues, even as Polly and Tom begin to realize that things that they have invented have a strange habit of almost coming true in real life.. Polly and Tom remain close and Tom proves a good friend to Polly after her parents divorce, and her mother, who becomes increasingly eccentric, decides she doesn't want her daughter to live with her again. Polly learns to love music from listening to Tom's string quartet, and he encourages her as a writer and as an actor. As Polly matures into late adolescence, the friendship between them becomes something else, and begins to have romantic overtones. But Polly and Tom have never been able to escape Tom's mysterious ex-wife Laurel Leroy, even though she has remarried, and both have been stalked for years by Laurel's strange unprepossessing husband Morton and his smooth-talking handsome stepson Seb. As Polly becomes more vulnerable to her feelings for Tom, Seb, Morton and Laurel begin to get a hold on her - with disastrous consequences. Only years later, as an Oxford undergraduate, does Polly realize the supernatural power of the Leroys, who made her forget Tom totally for four years. (This isn't a spoiler - we see Polly as a student before returning to her childhood.) With the support of her wise grandmother and her best friend Fiona, Polly sets out on the quest of her life - to rescue Tom once and for all. But can she beat the all-powerful Laurel? And can she stop Laurel claiming another victim?
Diana Wynne Jones deftly weaves material from myths and ballads together with a 'realistic' story that makes me think she would have been a tremendously good writer of adult fiction had she chosen to go that way. The supernatural and the 'real' blend perfectly together. Her characters are beautifully portrayed, the likeable ones complex and interesting, the villainous ones really interesting villains. I particularly liked the way that music featured in the book, and the developing love between Tom and Polly as Polly grew up. Tom is possibly Wynne Jones's most attractive and interesting hero, and Polly is a delightful heroine. All in all a real treat of a book, enjoyable if you are a child or if you are an adult, and one that grows on you the older you get.
Thank you, Diana - your books gave me such pleasure!
on 8 May 2000
I always find it ridiculous that this book is seen as purely for children, it is complex and full of twists and turns, in a genre all of its own it deserves to be seen as a book suitable for anyone ranging from the age of about 13 upwards. I have dearly loved this story since I first read it and it has only gained more of my attention with each re-reading!
on 3 August 2001
One of the most gripping, terrifying, utterly engrossing books I've ever come across, this is one of Wynne Jones' works for teenagers but it deserves to be read by adults young and old alike. Jones blends the modern tale of youth and adolescent desire with folklore, magical tradition, faery and fantasy to create one of the most sophisticated yet readable books charting the perils and joys of growing up. With its touches of horror-story and romance, its vivid portrayal of emotion, and, above all, its utterly compelling characters, this book should come to be a classic of teenage fiction. It's one of the few books that can be read over and over again, as the complexities (particularly at the end of the book) crystalise with repeated reading.