Nov 27, 2007

The Ogre Downstairs by Diana Wynne Jones

Caspar, Johnny, and Gwinny lost their father in a car crash. Their mother remarried, and they refer to their new stepfather as “the ogre”. They are not much fonder of Douglas and Malcolm, their new stepbrothers. One day, the ogre unexpectedly brings Johnny a gift: a chemistry set from a store near his office. He also gives one to Malcolm, and the two soon begin to experiment.

It doesn’t take them long to discover that, while half of the chemicals in the set are perfectly normal, the other half has unbelievable properties. One allows anyone who rubs it on their skin to float in the air, another brings common daily objects to life, a combination of others gives you invisibility, and so on.

As you can imagine, this discovery unleashes a series of uncommon events, and these slowly begin to bring the rival siblings closer together. They unite against a common enemy: the ogre. Johnny, Caspar and Gwinny are surprised to discover that their stepfather isn’t any kinder to his biological children than he is to them. When one day, after a quarrel with the ogre, their mother disappears, stories of Bluebeard cross the children’s minds. But spending time alone with their stepfather causes them to rethink some of their assumptions.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every Diana Wynne Jones novel I’ve read so far, but I think that, after the brilliant Fire & Hemlock, this is my favourite to date. The Ogre Downstairs is a remarkable book, full of humour, intelligence and warmth.

I liked how Caspar and Malcolm began to understand each other after literally walking a mile in each other’s shoes. I liked how each and every one of the characters felt very much real. I liked how throughout the story they all matured and learned things about themselves and those surrounding them.

This novel makes some great points about the importance of communication, of putting yourself in another person's position for a minute, of taking a moment to take a deep breath before harsh words are spoken. And yet it is never, ever, preachy or moralistic in the least. These ideas emerge from the story naturally rather than being imposed on it, and that is why the whole thing works so well.

This is a very human, subtle and complex tale, and a riveting adventure at the same time. I recommend it to children and adults alike.

Other Blog Reviews:
Everyday Reads


  1. I absolutely love this book! It's my favourite by her too, but I haven't read Fire & Hemlock yet.

  2. Oh, this definitely sounds like one I could definitely fall in love with! Thanks yet again Nymeth!

  3. I've looked at her books a number of times.. just haven't taken the leap yet lol.. I'm sure sooner or later I will!

  4. I like her a lot too, but I've only read the Crestomanci books and Howl's Moving Castle. This sounds a bit better.

    I'm also grateful for the Fire & Hemlock endorsement because I impulse-bought it off a sale rack a bit ago without having ever heard of it, and I tend to have bad luck when I do that. Now I'm excited.

  5. Sounds cool, I am looking forward to reading Fire & Hemlock and then trying some of her other books if I like it.

  6. Nicola: I urge you to read it, then!

    Debi: I think both you and Annie would really enjoy this one :)

    Deslily: I hope it's sooner! :P

    Scott: I'm excited that you got it! Do let me know what you think of it when you're done. Funnily enough, that was exactly how I got it too. I found it in a bargain bin for something like 1.5 euros. I had only read "Howl's Moving Castle" and I'd enjoyed it, but I had no idea what that one would be like. And well, after reading it her place among my favourite authors was firlmy established.

    Rhinoa: I really hope you do like it. And if you do, you must read this and Howl's Moving Castle!

  7. Oooh, I don't have this book. Therefore, I have to get this book. Like soon! Hahaha!

    Lovely review!

  8. what a great premise!! very cool. :)

  9. Hmm, I've never read any of her books! I guess I should add her to the ever-growing wishlist!

  10. Lightheaded: Indeed you do :P

    Jean Pierre: I'm glad you think so. Now read it! :P

    Dewey: Indeed you should! I think she has the kind of qualities you appreciate in a writer.

  11. Nymeth - I didn't have time to read comments, so I'm sorry if someone has already asked. What age is this book targeted to? My brother is 11 and I'm always looking for stuff that he might like.

  12. Trish: I'd say the target age-group is 8-12, so it'd be perfect for an 11-year-old! Even if he were older I'd still recommend it, because Diana Wynne Jones is one of those authors whose work can be read at different levels by people of different ages.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.