Mar 18, 2009

Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (and an announcement)

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.

Other Opinions:
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.


  1. OMG!!! I'm so excited there's going to be another read-a-thon!!! And that it's not on my birthday (which is the 11th)-I was nervous about having to explain to friends and family why we should celebrate the day before, lol.

  2. This book sounds like an absolute treasure!

  3. the book sounds wonderful. I think I might have to try this read-a-thon thing this year! :-)

  4. Thanks for the info on the readathon. I couldn't participate last time because I didn't know early enough and it happened on the day of my son's birthday and birthday party. Hopefully I'll be able to do it this time!!

  5. I really like the sounds of this book. I had heard of it before, but never seen a review!

  6. This sounds like such a wonderful little story...I had been wanting to read this one for a long time and even more so now.

    And Yay yay yay for another readathon! And I'm off that weekend! Woohoo! I work until 11 the night before, but that should be ok :p

  7. Yay for another read-a-thon! I used to love the tv series when I was young and reading the book would bring back lots of great memories. I remember the last episode being in the winter and them skating around together. It was lovely.

  8. This book sounds like delightful. I love what you have described. I'm putting on my Amazon wishlist so I can get it the next time I place an order. Thanks for the review.

    I'm outta the loop - I have no idea what a read-a-thon, but I wanna be part of it. :D

  9. I finally get to participate in a readathon! :)

  10. I've had this book on my TBR for the longest time, and it sound so lovely. I wanted to read what Stuck in a Book said about it, but the link didn't work. Did anyone else get an error message?

  11. aww this sounds absolutely wonderful! I never really put too much thought about reading it,but now I really HAVE to!

    and what a great news about the Read-a-thon! I hope I can take part in it!

  12. That book sounds wonderful! I love the cover, too!

  13. Great review-the book sounds really good.

    I'm pretty sure I'm going to give the read-a-thon a go this year. It seems so fun.

  14. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this book, Nymeth. This sounds like a wonderful book. I'll have to look out for it. :)

  15. Thanks for posting about the read-a-thon. (I totally just typoed thong at first, lol.) I heard it here first! :-)

  16. As soon as I read the words "read-a-thon" I jumped up, ran to my phone, and called Laura. I am so excited and have THE biggest smile on my face. Thank you for making my day, Nymeth. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

  17. I like that you're reviewing books that were written quite some time ago. There is always a great book being published but sometimes we need to be reminded of the great books that are already out there...Thank you.

    I am going to try to participate in the read-a-thon!!

  18. I'm echoing Trish and saying YAAYYY!! for the read-a-thon! Thanks for letting us know! I have something planned for that weekend, but I'm going to have to re-arrange now!

  19. This sounds like such a lovely book. I remember seeing it in the library when I was a kid, but I never read it.

  20. Great review, Nymeth! OK, I know I said this umpteenth times, but I'm going to say it again: into my wish list it goes! LOL.

  21. This sounds beautiful! And if this is up there will Skellig in the top 3 kids books, then I'm already sold.

    Dang it, I'm diving the weekend of the readathon :( C'est la vie. Enjoy though!

  22. I just love Tom's Midnight Garden - it is such a lovely story. My kids even enjoyed the DVD version.
    A readathon - I would so love to do that, however, I can't see it being possible with my children. Maybe when they get older. Enjoy!

  23. Eva: so glad to have you in for the read-a-thon!

    Debi: That it is :)

    Marie: yes! Do try it! It's so much fun. And there's no pressure at all to do the whole 24 hours.

    Amanda, fingers crossed that you can!

    Kailana, I think you'd enjoy it. The only review I remember seeing was Nick Hornby's, actually.

    Chris, this is your kind of book for sure. And yay for you having that weekend off :D

    Rhinoa, I've heard wonders about the TV series. Sounds like it was a great adaptation.

    Nely: a read-a-thon is taking a day off to do something but read along with several other bookworms all over the world, and it's even more fun than it sounds :D It lasts for 24 hours, but you can take part for however long you want. You decide how long you spend reading, visiting other participants, doing mini-challenges or just resting!

    Saveophelia: yay!

    Jeane: ooops! Thanks for letting me know about the broken link. Fixed it now.

    Valentina: I hope you enjoy it! And I really hope you can do the read-a-thon again.

  24. (Nely again: Sorry, I meant "nothing but" :P)

    Bermudaonion: Yes, the cover's very pretty :)

    Dar, thank you! And yes, the read-a-thon is a whole lot of fun. I hope you can join in!

    Melody: I'm glad you enjoyed reading my thoughts, and I hope you also enjoy the book itself :)

    Melissa: lol, read-a-thong :P It's a lot of fun, and I'm very glad you'll be joining in :)

    Trish: I'm very happy to hear the news made your day :D

    Staci: You know, that's one of the reasons why I like book blogs so much. Professional reviews are mostly of new releases, but I want to hear about older gems I missed out on too! And I hope you can join the 'thon!

    Laura: I hope you manage to change your plans!

    Kerry: it's never too late! I hope you enjoy it if you pick it up.

    Alice: Fortunately that's a phrase that never gets old :P Not in our little corner of the internet anyway.

    Mariel: I still haven't read Skelling! But if it's on the top 3 with this and His Dark Materials, then I really must. It's too bad you can't do the read-a-thon this time :( We'll miss you!

    Scrap Girl: It's lovely indeed :) And yes, young kids at home and a read-a-thon don't go very well together. If you have an hour or two to spare, though, you might consider signing up as a cheerleader. A cheerleader's role is to visit participant's blogs, see how they're doing, and cheer them on. I was a cheerleader for the second read-a-thon and I had so much fun. It's a great way to get to know new bloggers and to bond with the community as a whole.

  25. I don't read much children's lit but I have to add this one to my list - I just love the image of the "all-night traveller, letting up the blind of his railway-carriage window"... Being a night-owl I see a bit of myself in that :)

    And hurrah for the read-a-thon! Thank you for posting the link - I don't want to miss that at all!

  26. The read-a-thon sounds like fun! I really want to join except we have plans that weekend to visit with friends out of town. I still have to find a way to sneak in some hours though.. it's really something I'd like to join. Thanks for the heads up and for hosting. :D

  27. The book sounds great. And I'm really glad to see the read-a-thon continue (even though I never get a chance to participate because of work!) I think Dewey would be proud to know her legacy will live on for many years to come!

  28. What a beautiful quote from the book! Wow, that alone makes me want to pick it up (well, that and it's on my list of Puffin Modern Classics and I plan to read all of those).

  29. excellent review, such a cute cover, and very cool about the Read-a-thon :)

  30. I'm not one who generally reads many YA/Children's books, however this one sounds delightful! Excellent review - it convinced me!

    Have a great weekend ahead, and Happy Reading!

  31. I loved this book as a child and I still love it as an adult.

  32. This book sounds lovely!
    I haven't decided if I'll try to do the readathon again. I found starting at 9pm a bit difficult last time. Maybe a half marathon... or allowing myself a few hours off in the middle to sleep.

  33. Tom's Midnight Garden sounds wonderful! And fantastic news about the Read-A-Thon, the last one was so much fun :)

  34. Thanks for linking to my review! I watched the BBC series of this in the 1980s, and all through my childhood we had it on video, but I hadn't read it til last year - and I loved it so much. The final scene is beautiful.

    I love your review of Tom's Midnight Garden, thanks for writing it!

  35. Iliana, it's a lovely image, isn't it? I'm glad you're joining the 'thon again!

    Claire: I hope you manage to sneak in a few hours of reading!

    Stephanie: I know how busy it's been for you lately :( We'll miss you!

    Ladytink: I hadn't thought of reading all the Puffins, but that's an excellent idea!

    Naida: I hope you'll be able to join in!

    Mo: thank you! I hope you enjoy the book.

    fleurfisher: I can see why :)

    tanabata: I feel bad that the starting time is so inconvenient for bloggers in Asia :( The second one started at 5pm my time, and even that was hard :( This time we just set the same time as the last one, but maybe we could alternate it in the future.

    Joanne: It really was. And I made so many blogging friends thanks to it.

    StuckinaBook, thank you for your kind words! The final scene is indeed beautiful.


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.