HarperCollins £12.99 (336pp) £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Enchanted Glass, By Diana Wynne Jones
Friday 29 January 2010
No one has ever written quite like Diana Wynne Jones. The author of over 40 novels, she combines the delicate humour and nostalgic village settings of Barbara Pym with the wild imagination of JRRTolkien, who was her somewhat disengaged tutor at Oxford in the 1950s.
This latest book remains as predictably unpredictable as all her other works. Its main character, Andrew Hope, is a middle-aged history don as well as a reluctant part-time wizard. Inheriting his grandfather's country house, he has to cope with disgruntled family retainers. This sullen band is led by the housekeeper Mrs Stock, whose secret weapon is dished-up cauliflower cheese that no one ever wants to eat.
Her chief enemy is the gardener Mr Stock, no blood relation but it is that sort of village, who vents his bad temper by producing mountains of leathery over-size vegetables of the type that make any weekly organic box in real life an object of mounting dread.
There is also Aidan Cain, a runaway 12-year-old distant relation who comes to stay. Because each villager has their own fairy counterpart, there is a huge supporting cast of the weird and wonderful, including Oberon, Titania and Puck, all of whom want Aidan for themselves for no good purposes.
What follows is a journey of discovery for Andrew Hope as he gradually remembers all the magic he once knew as a child to beat off his sinister, land-grabbing neighbour Mr Brown. He receives help in this battle from regularly reading the racing results in his daily paper, where the names of the winners in the first and last race conveniently predict what is going to happen to him and those he cares for during the next day.
The novel's grand finale, taking place in a village fete, is suitably riotous before coming to the happy ending always on this particular author's horizon. For, despite its moments of drama, Enchanted Glass is essentially a gentle story, written with calmness and good humour plus an absence of any wearisome dragons and dungeons-type rhetoric.
The use of magic is incidental rather than pivotal, and there is room for an under-stated human love affair whatever the distractions elsewhere. Ostensibly a children's novelist, the author also has a large following in the adult fantasy market, winning the Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Association in 2007.
This latest novel should satisfy both camps. New readers may start by wondering where exactly they are going as one extraordinary event or character follows another, but should soon be won over by writing of such charm, wit and intelligence.
Nicholas Tucker is co-author of 'The Rough Guide to Books for Teenagers'
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