An Acceptable Time (by Madeleine L'Engle)

Interspersed with new books and those I am re-reading, I’m also picking up books which my sons read and liked in their teens, but which, for some reason, I have never previously read myself. Some of these are by Madeleine L’Engle, who is best known for her classic children’s novel ‘A Wrinkle in Time’. I have just finished reading the fifth book in her time quintet, ‘An Acceptable Time’.

The story is about Polly O’Keefe, the eldest child of Meg Murry and Calvin O’Keefe, who featured in the first book as teenagers themselves. They are now apparently married with a lengthy family of their own; Polly is in her late teens, probably sixteen or seventeen. She is spending some time staying with her grandparents, Meg’s parents, who are still working as scientists.

I realised when I reached the end, and found a family tree and list of books that I should perhaps have waited until I had read the other O’Keefe books, which might have introduced Polly at a younger age. However, it didn’t particularly matter; although some events from those books are referenced, this novel is complete in itself. As with some of the other books in the quintet, it features time travel, but not in a high-tech way.

Polly finds herself unexpectedly three thousand years in the past, after seeing two different young people whom she did not recognise, and who seemed to be dressed in skins rather than modern clothes. She is surprised that they speak a bit of English, but then learns that a friend of her grandparents (a bishop) has also been able to travel back in time, and has both learned some of their language, and taught them some English.

A young man called Zachary is quite keen on Polly - when she returns to the 20th century - and they go out a couple of times, but it’s clear that he’s quite ill. So when he, too, is able to travel back in time, they begin to wonder if it’s for his sake. The ancient peoples have druids and healers, and one of them thinks he might be able to help.

However, there are also fierce battles with another tribe who are suffering severe drought, and their ancient culture demands human sacrifice…

It’s quite a page-turning book, with a lot of action and some quite tense scenes. The science fiction aspects of time gates and tesseracts is not really explained, but that doesn’t matter too much. I’m not into science fiction, particularly, and the story is what mattered. There’s quite a bit of religious discussion, more so than in the author’s other books; however although the Christian message is explained fairly overtly, not pushed.

Moreover, it’s given in contrast to the ancient beliefs, or as something to remember when characters are afraid. The ancient beliefs in this book were mostly polytheistic and in some cases extremely unpleasant, contrasted with the modern people, and a handful of the ancient ones who believed in one ‘Presence’ rather than multiple gods and goddesses.

As with other books by Madeleine L’Engle, I found some of the conversations a bit stilted, and felt that there was a tad too much description in places. But overall it was a good read, one that I’d recommend to older children or teenagers who are interested in this kind of scenario, with modern characters interacting with ancient history.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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