03 November 2006

Summary Thoughts on The Pinhoe Egg - SPOILER edition

Here's more of my thinking about The Pinhoe Egg, this time with no concern about giving away the ending. So I start with the ***SPOILER*** label.

Diana Wynne Jones's portrait of senile dementia in Gammer Pinhoe is frighteningly true to life, even if Gammer can also use magic to root herself to the ground and cloud people's minds. This produces an opening as claustrophobically scary as any of her previous starts. Those scenes also establish how one of the book's two main, intersecting plots (Marianne's story) will play out within a family.

As for the end, I think endings are usually the weakest parts of Diana Wynne Jones's novels. Often the action seems to slow down instead of speeding up. In Witch's Business, for instance, the kids are all frozen in place for a while. In Conrad's Fate, there's a long wait for a creature to shamble out of a magical distance.

The Pinhoe Egg has a big, riotous battle between two magical families, as in The Magicians of Caprona, but then the real plot resolution comes with Chrestomanci gathering everyone in a room like suspects at the end of an Hercule Poirot mystery and talking a lot. Chrestomanci likes talking, of course, but that's no reason to indulge him. And then follows a chapter of all the kids ending up in a happy place, as I discussed on the 1st.

Furthermore, for all his talk about who did what when they shouldn't have, Chrestomanci doesn't address the emotional depths of the family betrayals. Of course, that's not a topic he's good at addressing (and we see why in The Lives of Christopher Chant). That makes the end seem a bit perfunctory, fizzing out after the real issues have been dealt with but before they've been resolved.

It would have been nice to see Cat, who knows a bit about family betrayal, talk this over with Marianne, just as he told her about her powers. As it is, she has discovered that her father and many other relatives have been involved in horrible family dysfunction--at the level of early Greek myths, that bad--but seems to move straight from the horrified first reaction to pleasure at being able to go to a different school. The book's two main protagonists might have benefited from working through their feelings together. But then we don't know what the future holds for Cat and Marianne, do we?

One final observation: Chapter 1 mentions three magical clans in this part of Chrestomanci's England, the third being "the Cleeves in Underhelm." But all the action seems to be played out by Pinhoes and Farleighs alone. I kept waiting for the Cleeves to play a bigger role. Are they still out there?

[Past postings--
18 May 2006: whispers of a new Chrestomanci book.
10 Oct 2006: first impressions.
12 Oct 2006: enter the horse.
14 Oct 2006: Joe bears watching.
16 Oct 2006: Cat escapes a cliché.
19 Oct 2006: enter the griffin.
31 Oct 2006: a Gump in the works?
1 Nov 2006: how it stands in a series.]

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