Top positive review
An Enjoyable and Nostalgic Reading Experience
on 3 December 2017
When Charlotte Makepeace arrives as a new girl at boarding school, she finds herself feeling very apprehensive, but when she is shown to her dormitory by an older pupil who seems kind and friendly, she begins to feel just a little bit better. Told that she can choose whichever bed she would like, Charlotte is immediately drawn to the iron bedstead by the window which has little wheels with ornamental spokes and is easily the best bed in the room. However, when she wakes up the next morning, the dormitory has changed and in the bed next to her is a girl she does not recognize, but who she soon learns is supposed to be her younger sister Emily, who calls Charlotte by the name of Clare. Totally bemused, Charlotte struggles to make sense of what has happened and, as the day progresses, she realizes that she has slipped back in time by forty years to 1918 and has taken the place of Clare who sleeps in an identical iron bed to Charlotte's. And just when Charlotte begins to orient herself, she wakes up the next morning back in her own time, where she learns that during her absence Clare has taken her place. And this strange situation continues - with Charlotte sometimes being herself and other times being Clare - until something happens which traps Charlotte in Clare's time and Charlotte isn't sure that she will be able to find her way back. Although she finds her double life a fascinating experience and she has become fond of Clare's lively sister, Emily, Charlotte has a sister of her own and a home of her own that she would like to return to - but will she be able to find her way back?
With some very good descriptions of situation and setting, this is an engaging story of a young girl's search for identity and of her endeavours to retain her identity and find her place in the world. Penelope Farmer has created an endearing heroine in Charlotte and the supporting characters are convincingly portrayed, especially young Emily, and also Agnes Chisel Brown, with whom Emily and Charlotte lodge for a time and whose brother has been killed in France. Ms Farmer uses her WWI setting to discuss briefly themes such as visions of courage and glory on the battlefield, and of the loss of these visions when disillusionment and fear sets in; and when news of the armistice comes through, the author takes the opportunity to show the headmistress explaining to her girls how as the women of Britain have played their part in the war, they can now no longer be denied the vote. It is true that some aspects of this story will require the reader to suspend their disbelief (I first read this as a child in the 1970s [and again in the 1980s] and even then it was necessary to avoid thinking too much about the time travel aspect of the novel), however, if you allow yourself to engage with the narrative and with the characters within, then there is much to enjoy in this imaginative and involving story. I was rather apprehensive about rereading this book all these years on, but I still found it a rewarding and entertaining read and as I managed to get a vintage Puffin copy with the original cover art and illustrations, this has been a lovely nostalgic reading experience too.