Jan/Feb 2007  •   Reviews & Interviews


Review by Ann Skea

Jeanette Winterson.
Bloomsbury Children's. 2006. 415 pp.
ISBN 0 7475 8064 2.

Silver is a small, freckled, orange-haired eleven-year-old. Her family disappeared whilst on a train-trip to London and since then she has been looked after by her aunt, Mrs. Rockabye. Actually, Mrs. Rockabye is like the wicked stepmother in Cinderella, so she makes sure that Silver does all the work and she keeps her in the cellar and feeds her on scraps. Mrs. Rockabye's chief ally is her pet rabbit, (called Bigamous "on account of his habits"), who, unless Silver can bribe him with carrots, spies on her every move.

Silver's Elizabethan ancestor, Roger Rover, was knighted for being a successful pirate and bringing back great treasures for the queen. One of these treasures was a wonderful Alchemical Timekeeper and Silver, although she does not know it, is its guardian and is the holder of the Secret of Time. There are, however, people in the world who know about Silver and who want that secret.

Abel Darkwater, a sinister, mysterious watch-maker, intends to steal Silver's secret by using hypnosis and dreams to enter her mind. Regalia Mason, a scientist who controls the powerful Quanta company and who intends to take time from those who have time to waste and sell it to important, wealthy people who never have enough of it, plans to kidnap Silver in order to obtain her secret. Both know that the Time Tornadoes and Time Traps which have begun to severely disrupt our world can be controlled by the Timekeeper, and both know that to have such control would give them immense power.

Adults who have read Jeanette Winterson's Lighthousekeeping, will already know her superb story-telling skills and will recognize the child Silver from that book, and hear echoes of Adam Dark in the name of Abel Darkwater. But Tanglewreck is a book intended for children and the characters, like the wicked aunt, the dark villain, and the incompetent thieves (called Thugger and Fisty), have a pantomime simplicity and humour about them. Nothing about Tanglewreck, however, is old-fashioned, dull or fixed. The children are thoroughly modern and they live in a recognizably modern world of fast food and technological gadgetry. There are elements of magic, too, which is fashionably modern in children's books, but it is magic with a strongly scientific twist. Time travel and Space travel, as well as being an imaginative dream, are seen as real possibilities based on quantum physics. Black holes are encountered, as well as worm-holes and parallel universes. And Dinger the cat, who was bought at Quantum Pets, is in the curious state of being both alive and dead.

Silver's adventures take her from her home, Tanglewreck, to London and back again. But they also take her to the ancient underground world of the Throwbacks (which has a curious resemblance to the maze of sewers below London), and along the Star Road to a place called Philippi, where Time stand still. Gabriel, a Throwback boy becomes her companion, and together they have some truly frightening adventures. Yet, of course, they survive, the secret of the Timekeeper is revealed, and all is resolved. The ending, however, is not the happy-ever-after fairy-tale ending of pantomime. Silver has to make difficult choices, she has to trust her "true heart" rather than follow her dreams; and her final happiness is realistically and satisfyingly tinged with sadness.

Altogether, this is a thoroughly engaging book for young adults and also for adult readers who enjoy well-written, well-told, imaginative stories.


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