My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This novel was required reading for my Uni subject, Narrative Theory. I had never read TMG, and I was surprised I hadn’t even read it as a child – because it is considered a classic and is a much-loved book, especially in the UK.
I have to be honest, while this is a great story as far as plot goes, it might have trouble finding an audience now. Tom and his life seem very old-fashioned. He is sent away from the family home to avoid catching the measles – a concept that is foreign to me, even as a child of the 60s, and would certainly be very strange to children nowadays.
So, I will disregard the “now” time setting of the story, and instead focus on the narrative itself.
Tom, a ten-year-old boy, is sent to live with his aunt and uncle whilst his younger brother, Peter, recovers from a bout of the measles. Aunt Gwen and Uncle Alan have no children of their own, and live in a flat on the first floor of a building belonging to Mrs Bartholomew. Tom thinks he is in for a pretty boring time, with no garden outside or much to play with.
One night as Tom lays awake in bed, he hears the grandfather clock downstairs strike thirteen. Curious, he goes to investigate. Unable to find a light switch he elects to open the backdoor to let some moonlight in so he can read the face of the clock – and discovers there IS a garden, and it is beautiful.
We soon realise the clock has somehow opened a doorway to another time – a time where a family lived in the house, with servants, and children who played there. Tom befriends a strangely dressed girl named Hatty and over the course of many nights they become close. Sometimes Hatty is Tom’s age, sometimes older, but Tom is always the same.
Slowly Hatty begins to turn away from Tom, as her interest is caught by a young man named Barty, until one night he runs out of the door and to his dismay the garden is gone.
This timeslip story is an allegory about the nature of childhood, and the mechanisms of growing up. Tom is a boy hanging on to his childhood, resisting growing up, and Hatty is a girl embracing growing older.
I found the ending of the novel very satisfying without being trite – which in my experience is unusual for novels of this era. This story does not talk down to children – it gives them credit for being smart enough to work out what is going on and when the conclusion comes, it is restrained and moving.
I do know children who would enjoy this book, but like any book for children, you would need to pick your audience for this one.
The best part is that I would be happy recommending this story to any child from about 8 upwards. It is magical, historical, romantic and suspenseful – what’s not to like?