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Monday, 18 June 2012

Review: Charmed Life

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Release date: Reissue 2009, first published 1977
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: 9+
UK Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780007255290


Charmed Life is a charming fantasy tale – full of witches, magical castles and a mysterious enchanter.

It’s quite unusual for me to read a children’s book that was first published over thirty years ago. Partly because being a blogger, I’m always hearing about new exciting titles. Partly because I’m a librarian and I need to keep on top of selecting titles that appeal to my very modern customers. And partly because when you’re trying to write children’s fiction, you need to keep up with what’s popular now. Charmed Life was chosen as our group read in writing class and so that’s how I found myself reading it.

This is the story of Cat and his sister Gwendolen. At the beginning of the story they are orphaned in a paddle boat accident. They go and live with a witch of no particular talent - Mrs Sharp. She encourages Gwendolen to study with Mr Nostrum. Gwendolen is a witch. Cat has no magical talent and he struggles with loneliness after his parents’ deaths. Gwendolen positively blossoms. She develops ever more sinister magical spells. Cat is in awe of his sister. She is larger than life and steals attention everywhere she goes. In fact Gwendolen is horrid. She’s mean, she’s selfish and she’s very egotistical.

Gwendolen concocts a plan to entice the mysterious Chrestomanci to visit her. She wants him to revere her talents. And much to Cat’s surprise, Gwendolen’s plan works. They leave Mrs Sharp behind and are adopted by Chrestomanci, making a new home at the castle. But things don’t go to plan from there on in. Cat finds the castle a strange and alien place. He feels lonelier than ever and Gwendolen’s magic becomes bigger and ever more threatening.

The timeless quality of this book comes from the magic. Any child at any point in time would surely love to live in an enchanted castle. Then there is the universal human desire to discover that you are special. The style was more descriptive than I personally enjoy but the pace of the story was excellent. The relationship between brother and sister was the most powerful part of the narrative journey. Wynne Jones conjured sibling rivalry and the conflicting emotions that a brother or sister experiences. There was humour and an expertly woven plot. I surprised myself by enjoying this book immensely which just goes to show some novels still feel fresh years after publication. Charmed Life is one of those wonderful novels.

Source: Borrowed from the Public Library.


Joe said...

It's great to see a review of a classic children's book on a blog! I too am guilty of reading/reviewing the latest stuff, owing to being a librarian/writer. Not surprised you enjoyed this at all: Diane Wynne Jones is a great novelist :-)

Clover said...

I mentioned the other day that I desperately wanted to read something else by Diana Wynne Jones as I'd only ever picked up Howl, and there were suggestions for this book so I'm thrilled to see your review :)

I'm definitely pleased to see reviews for older books too!