Charlotte Sometimes for Timeslip Tuesday

Welcome to Timeslip Tuesday. If you have a review of a Timeslip story you'd like to share, or anything else timeslip bookish, please leave me a link!

Today's Timeslip Tuesday book is the one that I consider such a Classic Example of the genre that I used it for my T.T. graphic (although with a different cover from the most recent edition at left)-- Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer (1969, reprinted many times, a good one for ages 9-12 ish). I am not alone in thinking this- the book shows up in just about all the critical essays on timeslip stories I've read (2), and even when it first came out its quality was recognized--in a review written that year, Margery Fisher described Charlotte Sometimes as "…a haunting, convincing story which comes close to being a masterpiece of its kind." (Growing Point, November 1969, p 1408).

In 1918, with WW I still being fought, Clare Moby and her little sister Emily go to boarding school for the first time. Forty years later, a girl named Charlotte Makepeace arrives at the same school, and sleeps in the same bed that Clare had used. Charlotte awakes after her first night to find herself in Claire's time, and so begins a dizzying flip flop through time as the two girls alternate days in each other's life. No one, except Emily, realizes they are two different girls, although all the frantic piano practicing Charlotte does is not enough to keep the music teacher from being baffled by her erratic performance. They communicate through Clare's journal, hidden in her time, and both are certain that the strange experience will end when Clare and Emily become day girls.

"Dear Charlotte, [wrote Clare]
Did Emily tell you about the bed? I think she might be right, though I did not tell her so. We should be moving to lodgings now quite soon. We must make quite sure I am in 1918, not you, the day we move. Emily would be so worried if you got caught then, and I in your time, and I would be so worried about her
Yours sincerely,

But it is not Clare who is in 1918 when the girls are moved, but Charlotte. And away from the bed, the time travelling won't happen, and Charlotte begins to worry that she will be Clare forever, that she has replaced Emily for Emma, her own little sister, and most frighteningly of all, that she might be in danger of slipping even further back in time....

Charlotte Sometimes is unusual plot-wise. It is rare for two people to actually swap places in time, and to be able to communicate. This premise makes this a great book about identity--if people don't know you're not you, what constitutes "you" to begin with? The same reviewer I quoted above wrote, "…this is really a study in disintegration, the study of a girl finding an identity by losing it… ". Lots of characters going back in time wonder if they are losing their real self, but Charlotte actually has a "self" that she has to be in the past, one that comes with the emotional attachment of a little sister. She constantly struggles to hold onto bits of Charlotte that aren't Clare, but it is hard.
What makes this book a favorite of mine, however, is its exploration of what it means to be a sister (something in which I have a natural interest, being a middle sister myself). Emily both accepts and rejects Charlotte as a sister. She generally adopts a "one bossy sister is the same as another" point of view, with a strong sense that Charlotte should be there looking after her--

"Tears marked her face but she stopped crying the moment she saw Charlotte; became more indignant than frightened.
"Why ever did you let me go like that?" she asked. "I thought I'd never find you."

Yet Emily feels deep anguish, crying bitterly, when she thinks she hears Clare's voice, but finds Charlotte is still in her sister's place. And Charlotte, in her turn, worries that she is letting Emily take Emma's place in her own heart. Haunting and convincing, indeed.

Disclaimer: I am perhaps disposed to find this book interesting because I, of course, am a Charlotte, and my own little sister is an Emily. But lots of other people who aren't named Charlotte have liked it, so I feel free to recommend it with a clean conscience! There is also the added bonus of a quite detailed WW I background, and a bit of back story for the secondary charaters, both of which added interest for me.

Penelope Farmer wrote two earlier books about Charlotte and her own sister, Emma, which are very strange indeed (The Summer Birds and Emma in Winter, both of which involve flying by magic). So strange are these books that I find it easier to pretend that they are written about two altogether different people--this is not to say that they are bad, just really odd. And then there is the still stranger Castle of Bone...
p.s. This might also be the only timeslip story to have inspired a rock song (Charlotte Sometimes, by the Cure). There is also a relatively new arrival on the rock music scene calling herself Charlotte Sometimes, which kinda seems lame to me. Or is it really neat that she has picked up on the struggle for identity embedded in this book and made it her own?????


  1. Hey Charlotte,
    Great review. Book sounds fascinating. You made me laugh as usual. I LOVE that there is a Cure song named after it, so wild. And the other tidbit about the new artist. Liked the identity musings and the Charlotte, Emily connection.

  2. Okay, now I really want to read Charlotte Sometimes--but my library doesn't hold it. Fortunately, I found several timeslip books among the paperbacks in my parents' attic--Mirror of Danger, Twin Spell, The Girl in the Blue Dress, Time at the Top--I read a lot of timeslip books without even knbwing what they were called. I'll try to put up a post next Tuesday!

  3. In addition, the book, which is indeed wonderful, should not be confused with the 2002 movie also called Charlotte Sometimes. On the basis of the trailer I can safely say it has nothing to do with the book and is not wonderful at all.

  4. Bethany and Emily--thanks for commenting!

    Anamaria--yes please, do post! I have read The Girl in the Blue Dress, but not any of the others.

  5. I loved Charlotte Sometimes. But my favorite time slip was Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley which was turned into a TV series in the UK. The time slip is into the 16th century and the time of Mary Queen of Scots. Thank you for Time Slip Tuesday it's a fantastic idea.

  6. I am so excited that I ran across your review of this book! I read this when I was in middle school and have been wanting to re-read it for quite sometime but I could not remember the title. Thanks for posting it.


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