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This review is from: Tanglewreck (Hardcover)
Tanglewreck demonstrates effectively that Jeanette Winterson's most notable features as a writer - lyrical prose, and a lofty disdain for straightforward storytelling in favour of impassioned 'spiral narratives' - don't necessarily lend themselves to the demands of children's fiction. Or rather they might, but because she has reined them in for Tanglewreck, all we know is that without them, she's nothing special.
The story is what we might, depending on taste, call either traditional or clichéd. A little orphan girl lives with her cruel aunt in a rambling, tumbledown house. She has access - though she does not know it - to a device which could prevent a terrible disaster from bringing the world to an end. However wicked forces want to steal it from her and control the world themselves. When she is taken from the old house and held prisoner so that the baddies can find the device, a simple quest story begins. Oh and there are a race of beings who live underground. None of this sounds like anything we haven't seen a million times before - and I say that as someone who's not even familiar with much children's fiction.
Where it becomes perhaps more interesting is the nature of the disaster, and the device and the evildoers who are after it. 'Time tornadoes' are wreaking havoc around the world, causing pockets of time to slow down and speed up, or come to a halt altogether. Our heroine, Silver (who shares her name with the narrator of Winterson's most recent adult novel Lighthousekeeping), has access to the Timekeeper, a clock which can steady time. And apart from the man who wants it - Abel Darkwater (also chiming with Babel Dark from Lighthousekeeping) - there is also the glamorous scientist Regalia Mason, who has no interest in the Timekeeper, but is more dangerous because she wants the Time Tornadoes to frighten governments into entering private partnership deals with her company, Quanta, to supply time to everyone who needs it. Of course, they can only supply time by stealing it from others, including thirteen-year-old children whom they subject to 'time transfusions' and who come out the other end like 60-year-olds...
All this is to some extent quite a lot of fun, in an undemanding way, and the character names are good (did I mention the evil aunt: Mrs Rokabye?) and there are some good jokes, such as when Regalia Mason reflects that tracking child heroines is so much easier these days using GPS instead of a crystal ball. And I liked the battle between the magic of Abel Darkwater and the science of Regalia Mason - the latter flooring Darkwater by pointing out to him that all his magic can now be achieved by science.
But there's not much more to it, and indeed rather less to it at times, such as when Winterson indulges herself by allowing characters to get out of situations without really explaining why (though I'm tempted to forgive her this, as Winterson can write, and even when cutting corners, the book is always coherent and compelling), or resorts to some of the wishy-washy jackpot philosophising that mars some of her adult fiction. And, although Winterson can convey the impressions of a place - such as the house Tanglewreck itself, or Darkwater's shop Tempus Fugit - she too often leaves them behind just as we're getting used to them, and takes us somewhere else with equally frustrating brevity - the Einstein Line (rather good idea this, with the Popes who all think they're in Heaven), Bedlam, the underground world and so on. Presumably she was just afraid of boring her younger readers by staying in one place too long, and perhaps she was right: 9+ years, let us know. But for an adult the book has a limited amount to offer. Its zigzagging fluffiness and unconvincing threats aren't really made up for by the expertly crafted scenes and amusing characterisations. Not quite a wreck, but a bit of a tangle.