The House in Norham Gardens, by Penelope Lively

Welcome to another Timeslip Tuesday, wherein I look at a book that I had heard lots about, but hadn't read until a few weeks ago. It's consistently described as a Timeslip--but the time travel element is miniscule, which disappointed me.

It is The House in Norham Gardens, by Penelope Lively (1974, for older middle grade readers and up).

In wintry Oxford, back in the 1970s, a fourteen year old girl begins to explore her great aunts' attic. Hoarders of both material things and things of the mind, the aunts have shared their house of nineteen rooms with Claire since the death of her parents. They are getting older, money is getting tighter, and Claire is growing up--all unsettling things. But what Claire finds in the attic is the most unsettling thing of all.

Her great-grandfather had travelled to New Guinea long ago, on a voyage of anthropological imperialism of the sort that has filled many western museums with the cultural treasures of other people. One thing never made it to the museum--a painted tamburan, a ceremonial shield of a New Guinea tribe. This shield begins to fill Claire's thoughts, until at least it seems she begins to see people of the Tribe from a century ago, coming to Oxford to fetch back this lost piece of their being. Then Claire opens the door to the outside and comes face to face with a man of the tribe.

After this strange, dreamlike encounter, where no words are exchanged, the cold winter begins to break, and the tensions in Claire's life begin to be resolved. An African student becomes part of the household, bringing both new life and financial security, Claire becomes more at peace with her position of loving, respectful responsibility toward her aunts. As spring comes, Claire has her final dream, wherein she herself travels to New Guinea. She sees that the people there, in the present, have moved forward in time themselves, and no longer need the piece of their past that was in her aunts' attic.*

The House in Norham Gardens is clearly a book about the interstices of time, but I feel that it is a bit to put it in the Timeslip category. The more I think about it, the more I think that the shield and the people of New Guinea are a metaphorical reflection of Claire's own life, and don't actually have any magical reality. Still, it's an awfully good read for the introspective type, interested in inter-generational relationships, old houses and the memories they hold, with a bit of magic, metaphoric or real, thrown in for good measure.

The House in Norham Gardens was recently republished by Jane Nissen Books. Here are some other reviews, at the Scholar's Blog, at Good To Read, and at Books for Keeps, a UK online book magazine. They are all worth reading in their own right!

Anyone else with a timeslip review is welcome to leave a link in the comments, and I will add it to this post.


*and so the museum gets it after all, which I found a bit of a let down.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Free Blog Counter

Button styles