Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Fire and Hemlock

By Dianna Wynne Jones.

This is an odd book, mixing the stories of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer. Unfortunately I'm not as familiar with Thomas the Rhymer (if reading Pamela Dean's version of Tam Lin can be said to make me familiar with Tam Lin, although one of the stories in Firebirds was also based on it), so I can't say it's an odd mixture specifically. The writing strikes me as somewhat less mature than some of the other good books I've read lately, although I haven't read much by DWJ except for her two stories in Firebirds and Firebirds Rising. The ending is admittedly unclear, although it tantalizes me with the possibility of understanding if only I think about it a little bit more or reread the book, which I'm probably not going to do. The "Coda" (not quite an epilogue) resolves a couple remaining issues with a sort of childish logic that is almost offensively simple compared to the conundrums Polly wound her way through at the climax.

The teaser is, Polly is around 19 years old and about to leave for college when a picture (titled Fire and Hemlock, of course) and a book in her room trigger her memory. She has a hidden set of memories conflicting with what she previously remembered, in which she snuck into Hunsdon House when she was 10 years old and ended up at a funeral for someone's mother. She was rescued from the reading of the Will by a Thomas Lynn, who was also bored stiff, and developed an odd sort of friendship with him. How could she have forgotten him so completely?

It seems like very little is done with the device of Polly in the four years later while she's remembering. Much of the book is spent retelling what happened to her in the five years before she forgot (and what made her forget?), with only a few comments about what she thinks now. Her character seems to hardly change in those four years, with the excuse that since she had just remembered, the memories were like yesterday to her, and she sort of resumes her relationship with Thomas Lynn right where she left it off.

The narrative is readable enough, I suppose, but I have a hard time seeing how this is a lot of people's favorite DWJ book.

No comments: