2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Moving and Haunting,
This review is from: The Time of the Ghost (Paperback)
Another clever combination of realism and fantasy from Diana Wynne Jones. Drawing closely on her own childhood, in which she was neglected by her schoolteacher parents and in which she and her sisters became inseparable as a consolation, Jones tells the story of four sisters: Cart (Charlotte), Sally (Selina), Imogen and Fenella, left to run virtually wild in the boarding school at which their father, always known to the family as 'Himself' is a Classics master and their mother Phyllis a matron. The girls, all highly imaginative, invent a series of elaborate games, including the worship of a strange made-up goddess called 'Monigan' (based on a rag doll owned by Fenella - the doll becomes an icon in 'The Worship of Monigan'). But is Monigan just a game? Cart soon becomes convinced that by inventing this worship the girls have actually invoked some strange, vengeful pagan goddess or spirit who is capable of wreaking havoc. And so it would seem - the sisters' lives are being watched by a ghost, who gradually comes to realize that she is the spirit of one of the girls, and that something must have happened to her to make her into a spirit. But what? Is she dead? To begin with, the ghost believes that she is the spirit of Sally, the only sister she doesn't see on her first visit to the boarding school, and this hypothesis is strengthened by her appearing to have Sally's memories. But when the ghost does see the real Sally, she becomes more confused. Is she a figure from the future sent to save one of the sisters from danger? Later, in a chilling episode, the ghost seems to be reunited with her body, and finds herself in hospital, an adult, and seriously injured following an accident. She knows now that she is a real person, and one of the sisters - but which one? Gradually, as she slips between the past and her childhood and the present, and as members of her family and friends gather at her bedside, the woman begins to realize her identity, how she came to be injured and what 'the Worship of Monigan' actually meant.
This story is a clever mixture of humorous realism, psychological insight and fantasy. To be honest, the realistic elements and the psychology were the bits that interested me most: I loved the descriptions of the sisters (caring, calm - usually! - Cart, misfit Sally, temperamental Imogen and quirky Fenella) and their lives at the school, the depiction of their friendships with some of the boys (particularly the 'otter-faced' Will Howard and Ned Jenkins the wild caricaturist) and the scenes with the parents (though these were chilling, bringing home quite how unsuited to be parents some adults are). I loved the descriptions of the boarding school and the messy house in which the sisters lived, and found Jones's depiction of how the girls changed as they became adults quite fascinating. There were some great set-pieces: a Latin class, a scene where the sisters try to get the ghost to speak by making it drink blood, a scene where Fenella steals food from the kitchens as the girls' mother hasn't given them any supper, a description of a bicycle ride to the burial mound where the girls believe Monigan lives. The supernatural elements didn't draw me in quite as much as the other aspects of the book - mind you, I found them convincing and interesting, and Jones certainly provided some interesting reasons for why the girls were drawn to 'invent' Monigan and later to try to defeat her. A warning - there's a couple of rather gruesome bits including a depiction of a car accident, which are best read very quickly!
A very thoughtful book, full of superbly created characters, laced with dry wit. Another Diana Wynne Jones triumph!