Friday, November 18, 2011

Pinhoe Egg

At 515 pages, The Pinhoe Egg is a long book, certainly by comparison with anything else I've read in Diana Wynne Jones' canon.   I work that out to around 118,000 words, which is getting into J K Rowling territory. 

This is another in the Chrestomanci series, and although it was written quite late, in 2006, it picks up pretty much from the much first book in the series, Charmed Life, which was written way back in 1977. 

I don't know whether it's because I've read quite a bit of Jones this year, or whether it's just that some of her books appeal more than others (I couldn't get past the first in the Dalemark series, for instance), but this one didn't grab me much at all.  It seemed all over the place, and there was a point at which I began to think that she'd just had it published without much revision.  The writing lacks her usual sharpness, and as the book goes on, becomes downright sloppy.   Pronouns often fail to connect to the character they're related to, and some characters, such as Joe and Marianne's father, are called one thing in some places and something else in others.  He also goes from being pleasant to ugly: beginning as a man for whom peace is the be all and end all to being presented as consistently aggressive and rather stupid.

Jones' book often have a kind of viciousness lurking under the surface (Black Maria is a prime example, or the way in which the father is so summarily killed in the first Dalemark book and then left behind, as it were, by his widow), but in this book the viciousness is surprisingly nasty.  It's not just the ongoing dispute between the Pinhoes and the Farleighs, but the fact of what they're prepared to do to each other (smallpox is just one curse they send).  Furthermore there's the locking away of all the half-seen creatures for centuries by those who should know better, and the cruel treatment of Gammer by his own sons.  In spite of Jones' explanations, these things seem to show village people with considerable suppressed hatred for each other.   I suppose it could be that their dark secrets result in them being more vicious, but it's not that clear - to me, anyway.

Chrestomanci and his tribe, of course, are all sun and light, reason and righteousness.  They're almost saintly in their ability to be right about everything, and while that's okay - we certainly need some sun and light in this book - they also become a little unbelievable at times.  Still they stand in the same vein as several of her major wizard characters: slightly unworldly, too good to be true, but able to fix everything.

I've read in some reviews that the baby griffin is regarded by readers as a delightful creature; sorry, I think he belongs in the same place as the detestable Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace.   Not only is he badly realised - we can never figure out exactly how big he's supposed to be: one minute able to be carried, the next whipping around on his own and causing chaos, the next like a toddler...it goes on.   And considering that he's what comes out of the egg, he doesn't actually play any particularly important role in the book's plot.

And that's another issue: Jones' plots are often very neat and well-constructed.  This one seems all over the place.  It doesn't help that there's no main character: we swing from Joe and Marianne early in the book to Cat (who was in the first book) and back again, never quite settling in anyone place for long. 

Ah well, you can't win 'em all...!
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