Monday, December 18, 2017

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley (1939)

A beautiful haunting short novel - nominally written for children, but really, anyone who loves good literature would enjoy this book, regardless of how old they are.  Uttley crafts beautiful, sosphisticated phrases like this:  "I saw the web and woof of time threaded in a pattern, and I moved through the woven stuff with the silent footfall of a ghost."
That passage gave me chills, it was so wonderfully well written.

I love time slip novels; they all should sound like this (and often do). (Charlotte Sometimes, The Children of Green Knowe).    I did not realize that time slips novels were this old - but then I remembered Mark Twain's  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.  That was a comedy (of sorts); this was most definitely not a comedy.  The book is about Anthony Babington, who fell head over heels in love with Mary, Queen of Scots and plotted against Queen Elizabeth in favor of her, losing his life over it.  This doom (of both Anthony and Queen Mary) haunts the the book like a ghost; you know it, the main character Penelope knows it, and that adds an ache to the book that makes it all the more better.  Again, the best sorts of time slip novels do this.

The River Darward flows in and out of the novel, and at one point Penelope and another character are talking about fishermen catching fish in one part of the river, and releasing them in another:  I realized that this was an incredible metaphor for not only time, but the time travel that Penelope was doing as well.  Uttley's idea that history is a continuous river, and that we are part of that river, is also put in the mouth of another minor character, whose grandfather told stories f of the Napoleonic wars; as long as there are people around to tell the stories, they (and the people) still exist.   

Why Babington rather than Queen Elizabeth?  (or Henry VIII?  Or King Arthur?) .  The novel never explains how the time slipping works, or why Penelope goes back to this certain time and place, but Uttley doesn't really need to - it doesn't detract from the novel in the least.  

Uttley used the language of the English midlands, the north of England and Scotland throughout.  The book was full of words that were both new to me and fascinating.  One such word: "dumbledore."  Which I had no idea existed outside of Harry Potter!  Uttley was did her research when it came to language; at least twice Penelope used words that didn't yet exist in the time period she was visiting, and was asked questions about the meanings of those words.  I loved this.  

A Traveller in TimeA Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A haunting, beautiful, compelling time slip novel - nominally written for children, but really, anyone who loves strong, good, well-written literature would enjoy this book, regardless of how old they are. The book is carefully and excellently crafted, containing phrases like this: "I saw the web and woof of time threaded in a pattern, and I moved through the woven stuff with the silent footfall of a ghost" that stick with you after the last page. Uttley's use, and obvious love, of language is a treat. The book is filled with words that were new to me, from the English midlands, the north of England, Scotland, that were a joy to discover. The inevitable and unavoidable doom of Mary, Queen of Scots hangs over the book, providing that pleasant heartache that only the best time slip novels can produce. I'm glad I picked this one up! No regrets here. 


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