Thursday, July 09, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

Title: Tom's Midnight Garden
Author: Philippa Pearce
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year: 1958 (1976 edition)

First line: "If, standing alone on the back doorstep, Tom allowed himself to weep tears, they were tears of anger."

Philippa Pearce brings the past alive by turning it into the present in this magical time-shift fantasy about a young boy named Tom Long.

Tom is placed in quarantine for measles and is sent to live with his childless aunt and uncle for a few weeks. They live in an apartment which is part of an old converted house. A grandfather clock stands in the communal hallway of the large house and old Mrs. Bartholomew, the landlady, comes down from her top floor apartment to wind the clock each week. Tom is warned that it is better for children to remain unseen when Mrs. Bartholomew makes her weekly trek.

The clock mysteriously strikes thirteen one night, and sleepless Tom creeps through the dark to investigate. The darkness is too thick for him to examine the clock face for a thirteenth hour, so he opens the outside door to let moonlight wash into the hallway. He is surprised to find that it is daylight outside! With all of this light Tom can see that the hallway is transformed by Victorian furnishings and the small paved area outside the door has become a large and lush garden, a veritable Eden. No longer does the smell of hot asphalt permeate the air, but instead the perfume of flowers and green growing things circulates on the summer breeze. Tom steps into the garden ... and into the past.

Tom returns nightly to this magical garden where he has befriended a girl named Hatty. Time behaves very oddly with subsequent visits to the garden. Tom never knows if Hatty will be younger or older than when he saw her last and this creates questions. Which one of them is real and which one the ghost? Which one lives in the "real" world? Time has drawn them together, but Time has also placed a barrier between them. Or has it?

Tom's Midnight Garden is about loneliness and friendship and the magic of childhood. It is the story of the loss of Eden into a fuller understanding that goes beyond childish interests. In the final, and very touching, scene the mystery of Hatty and the garden is solved and we learn that time need not separate us. Generational barriers need not exist. "Then and Now.... Time No Longer."

Tom's Midnight Garden is a beautiful and satisfying story. As a child, I would have LOVED this book with its combination of mystery, beautiful eeriness, magical setting and ending that just leaves you feeling good. I don't know how I missed it then, but I'm glad to have finally read it.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Also reviewed by:
nymeth at things mean a lot

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  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I'd have loved it even more as a child, but I'm glad to have read it now too.

  2. I've heard so many good things about this book. I need to get this one. Thanks for another great review!

  3. I guess I'm lucky in that I did read it as a child, and I absolutely adored it. I read it so much in fact I knew it inside out and back to front. It was the favourite book of my childhood. The only thing I'd disagree with is your rating, it deserves nothing less than a 5/5.