Let the Monday “Booktalk” posts commence!
I’ve been on a Diana Wynne Jones rereading kick lately. It started with Hexwood and proceeded to the Chrestomanci books, of which The Lives of Christopher Chant is my favorite by far, and one of my favorites of all of her books — mainly because I think the things I like most about her books are more clearly on display in this one than in many of her others.
I didn’t start reading DWJ ’til I was an adult. I expect I would have liked her books as a kid, but I think I might’ve appreciated them in a different way — more seduced by the sense of wonder, less distracted by how the plots go (or don’t go). As an adult reading her books, I sometimes find the plots very hit-or-miss, and in particular the endings frequently leave me feeling let down or simply frustrated. She has a meandering approach to plot that breaks just about all of the standard plotting rules at one point or another — important characters fail to appear until halfway through her books, critically important plot elements may be held back until the very end, Chekhov’s Gun may or may not fire, etc. It’s a style that feels much more like an oral storytelling tradition — someone telling you a story — than a lot of fiction tends to, and sometimes I really appreciate it for its lack of artificiality, but sometimes it just completely misses the boat for me.
But the thing I love most about her books, that keeps me coming back to them, is the layered-ness of the characters, and in particular the way the characters are presented to the reader. One thing that frustrates me about a lot of fiction aimed at kids is the flatness of the character presentation. Good people and bad people are evident at first glance; they wear their goodness or badness on the outside. (Good people pretty, bad people ugly….) And certainly they don’t do both good and bad things at once, so you can’t even tell how you’re supposed to feel about them …
But DWJ’s characters are complicated and surprising. Her hapless protagonists have to guess, like everyone in the real world, about who the good and bad people are: who to believe, who to trust. And often they guess wrong (frequently misjudging other characters based on superficial attributes), only to figure things out over the course of the book.
Many of her books deal with a particularly challenging aspect of growing up — the way that your perspective on other people, and yourself, tilts as you mature and begin to recognize your own humanity in other people, and become aware of the flaws in yourself.
I enjoy all of the Chrestomanci books to one degree or another — I’m currently reading The Pinhoe Egg, which doesn’t seem at all familiar, so it’s possible I’ve actually never read it before — but The Lives of Christopher Chant has always been the book in the series that stood out the most to me.
Crossposted from Wordpress.