A Wrinkle in Time (by Madeleine L'Engle)

I’m not sure when I first became aware of Madeleine L’Engle, and her classic children’s series about space and time. I think I probably read at least the first in the series as a teenager, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. It wasn’t until many years later that I read it - and some of the sequels - to my sons, who were about twelve and ten, and then came across some of her other works, in particular her non-fiction book about writing, ‘Walking on Water’, which I found extremely thought-provoking.

Since it’s probably seventeen years or more since I last read ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, first in the original ‘Time’ series, I decided it was time for a re-read. It’s not a long book, just over 200 pages and won a Newberry medal; it’s now considered a classic.

Thirteen-year-old Meg Murry is the main protagonist of this story. She’s the eldest of a family of four, but feels like a misfit in life. This isn’t just the hormones of a typical teenager; Meg is bright, but struggles with rote learning and schoolwork. Her mother is a very attractive physicist; Meg wears glasses and a brace, and considers herself ugly. Her father, also a brilliant physicist, has been away for some years, missing entirely for the past year. Meg idolises him, and hates the gossip that she can’t help hearing.

Meg has ten-year-old twin brothers, who are athletic and average, and she also has a five-year-old brother Charles Wallace, who didn’t speak until he was four, but is highly gifted as well as empathic. Meg and Charles have a strong bond, but Meg is often afraid. The first chapter introduces the family, their dog, the night sky, a terrible thunderstorm, some interesting sandwiches, and a strange old woman…

Events happen fairly rapidly, as is typical for a children’s novel. There’s not much introspection, although we learn quite a lot about what Meg is thinking, and regularly see her becoming angry and worried. Although the book begins in the real world, it’s a science fiction/fantasy novel, with a typical good vs evil battle, some unusual creatures, and the delightfully flawed Meg as heroine. The science of time travel is well thought out, even explained in a way that almost makes sense, and the plot works well with a mixture of light-hearted scenes and more tense, threatening ones.

I didn’t find the characterisation particularly strong; I never really understood the teenage Calvin’s part in the story. Moreover, Charles Wallace, while precociously intelligent, is gifted in ways that don’t seem quite believable even in the context of a fantasy world. Some of the dialogue is a bit stilted, too.

There are strong classical and Christian themes underlying the book, which reminded me in places of CS Lewis’s science fiction trilogy for adults. But they’re nicely done without being pushy or preachy. On the whole, the writing is good, the pace just right for this genre, and the resolution satisfying.

Ideal for fluently reading children from the age of about nine or ten. It works well to read aloud, too, but I found that some of the concepts needed me to pause and think, or even re-read an earlier page, and I think I understood the allusions and plot better on re-reading to myself.

It's not to everybody's taste, but it's a thought-provoking book in many ways, one which has been continually in print in various forms since its first publication in 1962.

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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