Monday 8 June 2015

Midnight Garden Review: A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle

I read this for The Midnight Garden's MG read for April - a fantastic way to be exposed to middle grade reads that I have missed in the past. Go and check it out here. A huge thank you to the girls there - Wendy, Kim and Layla - for their fantastic blog, and particularly to Wendy who sent me a lovely package a while ago.

It’s taken me a little while to actually process this book. It certainly wasn’t what I expected. When I read the back, I was pretty disappointed with the selection; it sounded as though it was going to be a very shallow love triangle (square?) type of novel, aimed at mid teens. Why is this a classic? I wondered. Also was disappointed that it was number four in a series – why not set the first one? I wondered whether it was such a classic, that I was assumed to have read the others or something. I’ll admit, I wasn’t originally happy with the selection!

Well. It was unexpected. I’ve never read anything like it, that’s for sure. It was a very curious mix of seemingly shallow teenage things (boys etc), dolphins, and very, very deep and philosophical thought processes. When I finished, I needed a while to just sit quietly. For an MG read, it is saturated in death. The book seems to be about the line between life and death, and the very many forms of death around us – Vicky’s grandfather, Leo’s father, Jed’s family, the baby dolphin, the swallows, Zachary’s attitude, Binnie. It is SO heavy. I didn’t read this as a teenager, but I imagine teens might find it just too hard.

I found the characters’ ages in general very difficult. I know Vicky was supposed to be a mature fifteen year old, but it didn’t feel real to me: she was so much older. Her thought processes, beliefs, feelings of responsibility – these are not those of a fifteen year old. Then, the age gap with Adam was creepy; I thinkVicky should have just been seventeen or eighteen and it would have made everything so much better! I related to her, but actually on a mostly adult level. Her confidence in her sexual self with the three boys was incredibly impressive.

More on the romances. They didn’t seem to be all that important to me, actually. There was so much else packed into this novel, that they seemed sort of superfluous. Does anyone else experience that? Leo barely got a look in, so why bother including him? We already had a connection to his family through his mother nursing Grandfather. Adam and Vicky’s relationship would have worked better on a platonic level, and Zacahary… well. I didn’t ‘get’ him. (Nor did I like him very much). I wouldn’t have minded if he’d been axed. The level of maturity in all of them just didn’t feel real; having so much independence, going
swimming, to posh meals, out in boats, in planes, on bikes. Very different to my own childhood, but that might be circumstantial. Anyway, I think I would have preferred this book without the romances (although Adam is so lovely!), hope this isn't too unpopular to say!

So. Dolphins. I have heard this aspect referred to as sci-fi; that made it sit easier for me. But, apart from the communication, it was purely wonderful! Who can complain about lovely descriptions of beautiful and intelligent creatures in their home environment? Sighs. Very nice. Wish I could swim with dolphins/be a marine biologist/live on an island/live my life again to have these things. Ah well.

I didn’t find the religious aspect at all preach-y and I’m a devout atheist, usually quite sensitive to that sort of thing. I just loved the Austin family. Reading en masse: Shakespeare and the metaphysical poets, singing, meals together. What a wonderful family! And I loved Grandfather’s ‘sermon’ (if you want to call it that) about only bearing one’s own crosses. It’s true. Take out the religious connotation and it is universally applicable.

Still not sure what I make of it as a whole. (Don’t hate me!) The mix of romance, growing up, death, and sci-fi dolphins was so unexpected and strange, and I’m not 100% sure it worked. However, a very very thought provoking read. As I said, I couldn’t move after the ending. It was deeply affecting for me, whether I thought it was an overall ‘good’ book or not.

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