There is a time, between night and day, when landscapes sleep. Only the earliest riser sees that hour; or the all-night traveller, letting up the blind of his railway-carriage window, will look out on a rushing landscape of stillness, in which trees and bushes and plants stand immobile and breathless in sleep—wrapped in sleep, as the traveller himself wrapped his body in his great-coat or his rug the night before.Because his brother Peter has measles, Tom Long is sent to spend part of his summer holidays with his Aunt Gwen and Uncle Alan. They live in a flat with no garden and a strict old lady for a landlady and neighbour, so Tom expects to be bored out of his mind. His aunt and uncle’s place is an old Victorian house that was divided into flats, and there’s a strange and imposing grandfather clock in the entrance hall—a clock that always strikes the wrong time.
When Tom’s in bed one night, he hears the clock strike thirteen. He gets up to investigate, and when he opens a door that is not supposed to lead anywhere (other than a small courtyard where the trash is put), he discovers a beautiful garden. Tom begins to visit the garden every night, and there he befriends a girl named Hatty. Only every time he visits, Hatty is a different age, and the two quickly realize that something odd is going on. Something that has to do with time.
Just in case the bit about visiting a girl in the past who is a different age every time has you wondering, Tom’s Midnight Garden was first published in 1958. It won the Carnegie Medal back then, and more recently it was second on the list of the Carnegie of Carnegies. And I can see why.
This is a story about time and magic and friendship; about the wonderful freedom of being a child and having free access to a garden in the summertime. But it’s also about loneliness and imagination, loss and helplessness, connections, regrets, and lost time. As Tom gets to know Hatty better, he begins to see her as more than the exasperating little girl be first assumes her to be. At first, he sees her as a desperately lonely child constantly running after her older cousins, who pay her little attention. There is a reason, it turns out, why Hatty is also staying with her uncle and aunt, and why Tom’s friendship is something she so greatly needs. Just like Tom needs hers.
Tom’s Midnight Garden is subtle, sophisticated, and very emotionally satisfying. The garden itself, and the question of just who Hatty is, remain mysterious until about halfway through the book. Then the answer becomes clear, if not the specific details. This, however, is not at all a problem. Because you still need the final scene, the bittersweet and very touching final scene, to fully feel the book’s emotional impact; to understand all it has to say about the passing of time.
A lovely, beautifully written and memorable book.
Stuck in a Book
Tip of the Iceberg
(If I missed yours, let me know.)
Over the past few months, I've seen several people ask if the Read-a-thon was going to continue, and if so, when we could expect the next one. The answer is yes, and the next one will be on the 18th/19th of April, starting at 12pm GMT. Like Weekly Geeks, the Read-a-thon now has its own site, and was renamed Dewey's Read-a-thon to honour its much-missed founder. For more details, please visit the Read-a-thon site.