Talking about a friend’s visit to see Wicked in London reminded me that it was written by Gregory Maguire, who also wrote Lost which was set in an old London house. I found the review I wrote about Lost written for an online bookclub and here it is…
The perpetual theme of this book is spelt out from the first to the last page. And at times I became lost in the plot; not because Winnie moves into the story she is writing, which in fact works well, but because the structure of the story, particularly towards the end, is weak.
In spite of my disappointment, both in the denouement and in the inconclusive finale, I found this book enjoyable to read because of the variety in writing style, the literary references and the clever use of vocabulary. There are so many carefully chosen words which Maguire uses effectively to explain the setting. When the Forever Families meeting first assembles he describes how “ Winnie and the other supplicants hung back”. He moves from sloppy American everyday language to describe the accident on the freeway to purple prose to build up the tension such as “Throughout the night, the house shuddered, the furnace gasping emphysematously(!), the windows bucking in their casings”. I also appreciate his acerbic wit in comments like “the pursuit of Happy meals”.
There seem to be two parallel threads running through the book; the loss of a child even referred to in metaphors such as “The window shattered spraying glassy baby teeth”, and the suspension and intermingling of time. The phrase “Time no longer” kept occurring to me and I finally identified it as coming from “Tom’s Midnight Garden” by Philippa Pearce where two lonely children from different eras meet during troubled dreams at the time when the clock strikes 13. As an aficionado of children’s fiction, I wonder if Maguire was consciously or unconsciously using this plot as yet another form of inspiration for his book. I found the references to classic children’s books an interesting facet of the story, but it does presuppose that the reader is almost as familiar as he is with the other stories.
I did wonder early in the book whether Winnie was actually dead, as the haunting seemed to follow her, but gradually the suspense and fear created by Maguire was replaced by so much psychology about Winnie’s feelings of guilt and despair. Had I been the publisher of the book I would have returned it to Maguire so that he could tighten up the story structure and improved his characterisation to match his skill with language.
Obviously names are carefully chosen to match the characters, but I found this irritating. It is as if he doesn’t trust the reader to decide on a character’s motivation and purpose in the book. I kept wishing that Winifred Rudge had a flowing romantic name like Winona Ryder. Then perhaps she might have been a more sympathetic character.
So, an unusual book which was worth reading, but somehow it fails to achieve- whatever it was trying to do? I do, however want to read “Wicked” and “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” since they sound much more my cup of tea.