Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Pages: 300
Date: 16/05/2012
Grade: 3.5
Details: Received from Book Geeks
            Winner of the Terry Pratchett Prize

This has to be one of the strangest books I’ve ever read even if it started straightforward enough.
Edward lives in The Manse, at the end of The Lane where a cemetery is the back garden with his twin sister Sophia, his parents and two older brothers. Edward’s home is so isolated from the rest of the world that for a long time he has a hard time imagining what that world might be like.
Edward’s father is a born-again Christian working as a farm labourer and a man who will turn to corporal punishment whenever one of the children breaks his strict rules.
On the day their grandmother dies, five-year old Edward and Sophia meet a stranger with a time-machine. A stranger who has a favour to ask of Edward; he wants to be his friend. On the same day, Edward’s father asks Sophia to promise that she will never leave the Manse or her mother. The young old girl makes the promise not realising what it means and unaware that she condemns her own future in the process.
Soon afterwards the twins, who had up until then been constant companions and each other’s world, are separated when Edward is sent to boarding school.
It is in school that Edward meets Alf. Alf is a boy who is even stranger and more isolated from the rest of the school than Edward is, but he is also a philosopher, poet, muse and, most of all, a mystery. Nobody else in the school seems to know who Alf is or where he sleeps and for long periods of time Edward doesn’t see Alf around either. At important moments in his life at school though, Alf turns up at Edward’s side.
When, years later, Edward finishes school and returns to the Manse in preparation of starting university life disintegrates for him, Sophia and the rest of his family with Alf as the rather unexpected bystander.

On the surface, and for most of the early part of the book, this is a story about two children growing up in a dysfunctional family. Because the story is told from Edward’s perspective the reader only slowly comes to the realisation that there are a lot more undercurrents in this family than are immediately apparent.
The young Edward, while being a very smart child, takes his surroundings and the things that happen there at face value and although the reader can sense things Edward isn’t aware of, the full scale of revelations don’t become clear until Edward is old enough to understand them.
There were a few things that happened in this story which left me feeling very uncomfortable, and while I can see that they made the dysfunction in this family more vivid, I can’t help feeling that there might have been other ways to paint that picture.
There were also parts of the story, especially with regard to physics and time-travel that just went straight over my head.
My final reservation about this book has to do with the way the story ended, or as I experienced it, didn’t end. While the final scene was foreshadowed early on in the book, it left too many questions unanswered for my liking.
Having made all those reservations I do have to add that I was fascinated with this story for most of the book and found it hard to stop reading. I felt a deep need to find out how it all would end, if Edward would be able to save his sister and whether or not Alf would be explained more fully.
I also feel that it is quite possible, if not likely, that I missed some of the nuances in this book. On the cover this book is described as a comical tragedy. I completely agree with it being a tragedy, however the comical part must also have gone straight over my head. So while this maybe wasn’t quite the book for me, I’ve got a feeling that it may well be the right book for other, less straight-minded, readers.


Judith / Leeswammes said...

This sounds like a great book, almost a fairy tale. But what a pity it didn't end satisfactorily for you. I love time-travel stories, but does Edward himself do any time travelling?

I think it's a book I'd like to try, I like odd books. :-)

Marleen said...

By all means, Judith do try it. As I wrote in the review I'm quite prepared to accept that I missed something or that it just wasn't the book for me. I'm sure it didn't get the Terry Pratchett prize just for being published.
Edward himself doesn't do any time-travelling in the story although the end of the book seems to suggest he might start once the reader leaves him.