Are we using up time as we are other Earth's resources, fossil fuels, water and rainforests? That's what Jeanette Winterson would have us believe in this book, her first novel for children. Using a playful tone, yet sophisticated concepts, she even manages to sneak in a few science lessons on the technicalities of time. As the story opens, time is out of sorts. It's speeding up, slowing down, and -- at times -- running out all together. Time Tornados are descending randomly, carrying off innocent victims. One girl is destined to remedy the situation and yank time back into place, but she faces a myriad of obstacles, including a slew of the world's top scientists, a 200-plus year-old inventor, and a stylish female time-broker. How the girl strives to overcome them and fulfill her destiny makes for a fast-moving and inventive tale.
A nasty aunt and her eerie sneaky bunnies have made life miserable for 11-year-old Silver, since the tiny orphan girl lost her parents in a mysterious accident four years ago. The aunt, Mrs. Rokabye, forces the child to work as a charwoman, and barely feeds her. Silver's only solace is her family home, an ancient English stone manor called Tanglewreck. But with the arrival of Abel Darkwater, a mysterious inventor of time gizmos, suddenly even Silver's rightful home is threatened. She heads off for London where there are mysterious happenings, such as Time Tornados that carry off school buses, and storms that rain down ancient books. Ultimately, Silver finds herself wandering the streets alone, until a certain woolly Mammoth leads her to an underground timeless tribe, and safety. Soon Silver learns nothing will be right until she recovers a missing timepiece that everyone seems to want -- the Timekeeper.
Time in the story might be sluggish, but the book is not. Winterson's quippy language and imaginative characters (including a butler who runs away if he's wearing shoes after 8 p.m.) speed the story forward at a steady rate. Winterson's fast pace is largely driven by her use of quirky short sentences, and "showing-rather-than-tell" style, such as:
And she was happy; she even began sleeping on her back, not curled up in a ball as she used to do..
The end is unclear, but perhaps readers were meant to wonder and wish for a sequel. A perfect book for anyone longing for something shorter and lighter, but similar in flavor to the Philip Pullman's three-book "His Dark Materials" series.
Review by D.