The story of my Diana Wynne Jones reading life is this:
Stage One: Begin book. Find world it is set in confusing. Find characters depressing and unpleasant. Give up reading it, or finish it with grim sense of duty to beloved author. Lament dissimilarity to books previously read by Diana Wynne Jones. Attain acceptance by telling self that no author can write good books every single time. Reread Fire and Hemlock consolingly.
Stage Two (discovery of DWJ – 2003ish): Receive assurances from sister that book in question is good. Doubt her taste because of Juliet Marillier and similar. Point out to her with superior air that no author can write good books every time and this one is simply not my cup of tea. Remind her about The Time of the Ghost. Insert fingers in ears. Go la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.
Stage Two (2003ish – present): Remember all those other Diana Wynne Jones books not loved upon first reading. Begin to doubt judgment. Remind self of Dark Lord of Derkholm, Archer’s Goon, Deep Secret, and Homeward Bounders. Remind self about Time of the Ghost. Struggle to hold onto feelings of justification in abandoning book.
Stage Three: Allow time to pass. Have no new Diana Wynne Jones books to read. Begin to feel book could not have been as bad as all that. Begin book again. Either return immediately to Stage One and do whole thing over with calcifying feelings of dislike for book, or carry on to Stage Four.
Stage Four: Finish book. Have no idea what was wrong with self before. Promise self to bear this in mind in future. Possibly give The Time of the Ghost another try, despite never ever progressing beyond Stage Three with it.
Knowing this will happen does not, by the way, fend it off. Out of Diana Wynne Jones’s dozens of books, there have been maybe six I liked on the first try. I do not know how to account for this, but I will say that it has given me a healthy doubt for the accuracy of my first impressions.
As you may have discerned, I have never progressed to Stage Four with The Time of the Ghost. It’s about the ghost of one of four sisters (she cannot quite work out which sister she is), who in present times, her own adulthood, has been in an accident and is lying ill in a hospital bed. She keeps traveling back in time to her childhood, and the events surrounding a game (a sort of game) about worshiping a dark goddess called Monigan. Some way, Monigan is connected to what has happened to the ghost, and she must change the past in order to keep herself from being claimed by the goddess.
I have read this book, in part or in full, at least seven times in the last decade; and each time I have found it tiresome and creepy and unspeakably dreary and awful. But as Diana Wynne Jones Week grew closer, I felt more and more that it was shabby of me to hold such a week while also retaining such strong dislike for one of Diana Wynne Jones’s books. When I saw it at a book sale a few weekends ago, therefore, I grabbed it.
“Ew,” said my sister. “You’re buying that?”
“I have disliked so many of her books, the first time through,” I said (stoutly) (firmly in Stage Three). “One of these days, I’m going to have a breakthrough with The Time of the Ghost. I’m going to read it, and I’m going to like it,” so I bought it.
And lo, it did come to pass that I curled up in a blue university armchair with The Time of the Ghost, and I did decline to read the flap copy on it for verily I remembered finding it confusing before. And I looked upon The Time of the Ghost and read it, and found it good; and yea, I did not know what was wrong with me before. And so it was that after ten years of travail and misery, The Time of the Ghost and I progressed to Stage Four at last, and I entered it into my catalogue on LibraryThing, that I might keep it forever as a sign of joy and a reminder of past follies.
I may have said a few times this week that I love Diana Wynne Jones. I love her for many reasons. Most of these are to do with her skill as a writer: the vivid life of her characters, her humor, her deft, elegant plots, and her boundless imagination. But I particularly love her for the dozens of times my experience of her books has reminded me to try again, to be aware that the reader has to be able to meet a book halfway in order to enjoy it. (People, too, as it goes.) My life is happier for these reminders.
This has been Diana Wynne Jones Week, lovely internet people. I am enchanted with my first experience of hosting a blog event and may do it again someday. Like maybe I will actually start up that mental health challenge I have been talking about for a year. A big thank you, again, to Sami Saramäki for letting me use her beautiful illustration for the button; and to you, delightful people of the blogosphere, for playing along with me. I shouldn’t be surprised, after two and a half years of blogging, at how amazing and fun and enthusiastic y’all are. I hope you all enjoyed your Diana Wynne Jones books and will read on. 🙂
If you haven’t entered my DWJ giveaway, hasten to do so, because it closes at midnight tonight!