May 11, 2007

Memorable Book Quotes #3

Unfortunately, Ivy's state was a silent one. Polly was dying to tell her about tea and Mr. Lynn's flat and, above all, about the horse, but Ivy sat fenced in silence as thick as barbed wire, and Polly knew better than to try to break in. The train was so crowded that Polly had to perch on her knee, and Ivy's mood made the knee stiff and uncomfortable.

'I want a relationship, not presents! I want happiness and sharing - not just two people living in the same house. That's all we've been for years now - two people living in the same house. Your father's so secretive, Polly. On top, he's all smiles and laughs, but if I ever ask him what he's really thinking, it's 'Oh, nothing particularly, Ivy', and not a word more will he say. That's not right, Polly. He's got no right to keep himself to himself away from me like that!'
This was already beginning to sound like one of Ivy's usual discontents. Polly had long ago learned to dread them. Later in her life she learned to dread them much more. This time, as usual, her feelings were hurt on Dad's behalf. She had to give up trying to feel honoured and tell herself she was being considerate instead. As Ivy talked on, she found herself thinking that dad was not secretive. He just expected you to know what he was feeling by the things he said and did. It was Mum who kept herself to herself, locked away in moods.

Polly ate absently, considering Mr. Lynn in return. He was behaving cheerfully enough, but he was not happy. She knew the signs, from Ivy. There was a sort of effort going into his cheerful remarks. She could feel the pushes.
Diana Wynne Jones - Fire and Hemlock

I'm going to have to take this chance to plug this book, because it's one of my very favourites, and I don't think it's as well-known as it deserves to be. These passages aren't half as powerful out of context as they are in the book, but they still get across what I love about this book, and indeed what I love about Diana Wynne Jones - the perfect, subtle way in which she depicts the little spaces between people, the hidden meaning of each gesture, each glance, each word that remains unsaid.

Fire and Hemlock is a retelling of two traditional Scottish ballads: Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer. When I read this book I was not yet familiar with them, but that didn't stop me from understanding and enjoying the story. The relationship between these ballads and the book is not exactly direct, and at first I only realized it was there at all because there are quotations from the ballads before each chapter.

Fire and Hemlock tells the story of Polly - a girl who one day, looking at a picture in her grandmother's house, slowly begins to remember certain things about her life that seemed to have been disappeared into the depths of her memory. Then we have a flashback to the day when Polly met Thomas Lynn for the first time, and after that, we follow the story of her life - the complicated relationship between her parents and the way she was tossed back and forth between them and ended up living with her mother, her school years and her growing pains, her relationship with Mr. Lynn, and, eventually, what the Queen of Faeries has to do with her life...

Other than a tale of Faerie, this is a very poignant coming-of-age tale, and my very favourite thing about it is the way it portrays the subtleties of human relationships.

In short, this book is a treasure, and one that I'd recommend to every lover of good books.

Reviewed at:
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Geranium Cat's Bookshelf
Everyday Reads
Valentina's Room
Dreaming Out Loud


  1. I really like this book! Glad to see someone else advocating it. :)

  2. I've mentioned before - I keep meaning to read something by Diana Wynne Jones after reading so much about her work on Neil Gaiman's blog. Next time I order from Amazon, I'm getting this one too. This will be the year I actually read some Diana Wynne Jones!

  3. Kailana: It's a great one, isn't it? And unfortunately it seems that finding fellow fans is a little harder than it should be.

    Quixotic: Do! I think you'll like her writing, and this book in particular too.

  4. Hi, nymeth - I'm loving your book blog! I saw your DWJ label and just had to check out your reviews. I love Diana Wynne Jones! I read Fire & Hemlock so long ago, and I remember loving it - and also wanting to reread it immediately, because it had one of those endings (if I'm thinking of the right book) that makes you have to rethink the story in the light of what you learn at the end.

    Speaking of Tam Lin - have you read Tam Lin by Pamela Dean? It is wonderful! I've been thinking about it lately, and I think I'm going to reread it some time soon. From what I've read from poking around your blog, I think you'd definitely enjoy it.

  5. Hi Darla! Thank you :)

    And yes, I completely agree with you about the ending. I need to try and fit a re-read of this book in the next few months. It's been a while since I last read it and I miss it a lot.

  6. I was just browsing through your tags when I came by this post. You know, Fire and Hemlock is my favourite book by Diana Wynne Jones! In fact, I guess it has helped me find my "thing" when it comes to books - mythic fiction. I didn't know anything about Tam Lin or Thomas the Rhymer when I started it, either, but Fire and Hemlock had me reading Pamela Dean's "Tam Lin" (another favourite of mine), and that led me to more fairy tale retellings, which also led me to Charles de Lint and many of the books I love now. :)

  7. Marineko, same here! This book definitely helped me realize just what kind of story I love the most.


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