TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 January 2016
Perhaps it is entirely appropriate that a book about the virtues of wasting time and the risks of being constantly driven and goal oriented has a meandering feel to it. Loading the book with digressions, asides, and tall tales, the author takes his time as he sidles up to his main themes. And that's all to the good, because the dreamy, fantastical and yet eminently practical guidance offered here is suited to a slow, playful and whimsical approach.
We start with an introduction to Momo, her friends, and her peculiar ability to "listen well". We meet her two best friends, a teller of tall tales and a slow, thoughtful philosopher/streetsweeper. Once we have Momo comfortably situated in her village, the "grey men" arrive. They steal the time they need to survive from others, leaving those others worn out, distracted, and exhausted by their hectic and empty lives. Momo, with two new companions, must defeat the grey men and return the people's time to them. Understand that "time" in this context generally means leisure time or "unproductive" time devoted to socializing, playing, relaxing, day dreaming and the like. We learn that without this sort of time, then producing, achieving and consuming are meaningless.
On one level this is a time travel adventure book, but that's like saying "The Wizard of Oz" is a travelogue. The time travel and the adventure mostly serve to allow our heroine, Momo, to meet people and to discuss things. Momo is in the classic style of the "wise child", and there is much in the bones of this book that reminds one of the gentle humor and pointed commentary of books like "The Little Prince" or "The Phantom Tollbooth". And make no mistake, this book is a pretty pointed, obvious, and rather sharp indictment of the hectic lives of acquisition and excess we now live.
While Momo and her friends and companions are interesting, it is the writing, (and especially the dialogue), that I found particularly engaging. Ende has a way of heading straight toward "sappy" and then pulling back or veering to deliver a fresh, or even startling, unexpected line. The upshot is that this is more than a clever fairy tale and more than an "indictment" of modern, (circa 1973), life. It is a kid friendly, adult friendly, cautionary tale couched in fairy tale conventions, but with real style and grace and humor. This is pretty elegant stuff.
A BIT OF HOUSEKEEPING. This book suffers very much from Amazon's lack of care in identifying different editions, publishers, and even languages. This book was originally published in German in 1973. An English version was published in 1974. A new English translation was published in 1984. Many and various other editions, in various languages, have been published over the years since. The version I read was published by McSweeney's in hardback in 2013 as a 40th anniversary edition and is being released by them in paperback in 2016. It has a new translation by Lucas Zwirner. The cover has clock faces for the two "o's" in Momo and shows a little girl in a blue coat holding a turtle, while grey men pass behind her. I read and reviewed the McSweeney's edition. Be careful if you order from third party sellers; you might end up with any version in any language. (Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)