No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, April 26, 2010

2010/33: Enchanted Glass -- Diana Wynne Jones

"I myself discovered I could grow roses as soon as I came here ... It strikes me that this area is further into the occult than most other places. Stuff comes welling up -- or out -- from somewhere, and it was Jocelyn Brandon's job to cherish it and keep it clean, so that it does no harm." (p. 85)

Andrew Hope, a thirtysomething academic, has inherited his grandfather's house. Like many inheritances, it comes with strings attached, in this case old Jocelyn Brandon's magical 'field of care', centred on the building and -- though not marked on any map -- encompassing most of the village of Melstone.

Andrew would, of course, be busy exploring this, and going through his grandfather's papers: possibly even working on his own magnum opus, a book about the nature of history. Instead, he's distracted by a cast of characters as colourful as one would expect from Diana Wynne Jones: a territorial housekeeper; a one-legged Irish chap; a beautiful but bossy young woman, Stashe (short for Eustacia), who employs herself as Andrew's assistant; a simple but mechanically-gifted youth; and a runaway adolescent, one Aidan Cain, who's come to Andrew seeking protection. Though Aidan is not entirely clear who he needs to be protected from ...

As Andrew watches Aidan discover Melstone and the field of care, he finds himself remembering his own childhood -- and recovering some of what his grandfather tried to teach him. Forays through the voluminous paperwork left by Andrew's ancestors begin to reveal a long-standing bargain with local bigwig Mr O. Brown, resident of the manor, whose two ex-wives are both out to get him.

Though Enchanted Glass feels calm and occasionally rather slow, it packs in plenty of matter-of-fact, pragmatic, comfortably worn-in magic. The glass in question is the beautiful stained glass in the kitchen door, where Andrew has always imagined he can see faces. Stashe uses the racing results as an oracle, and helps Andrew boost his wards ("You can do it on the computer these days"). There's a great deal made of the importance of accurate naming: Aidan escapes one set of pursuers because they get his name wrong, and Mr Brown, queried about a threatening security guard in the woods, sidesteps the question with "I can give you no other name for him than Security".

The ending felt somewhat hasty to me, but perhaps that was just by contrast with the gradual build of tension and mystery. Enchanted Glass isn't up there with my favourite Diana Wynne Jones novels*, but it's a perfect example of something the author does very well: a book with appeal for a wide readership. There is romance and friendship, magic and machinery, comedy and tragedy, a strong sense of place and a very English resonance. Also, a talking animal.

*off the top of my head and in no particular order, my top five are Hexwood, A Sudden Wild Magic, Dogsbody, Eight Days of Luke and Howl's Moving Castle

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