The Wind Eye, by Robert Westall, for Timeslip Tuesday

This week's Timeslip Tuesday book is an older English one--The Wind Eye, by Robert Westall (upper MG/YA 1976, still in print).  Westall's work ranges from picture books to adult, often exploring how the past hits the present in dark and mysterious ways.  Which is what happens in The Wind Eye....

It begins when a family, comprising a mother and her teenaged son married to a father with two daughters (one a young teen and one a little girl), setting off to the northeast coast of England to stay in the old house the father has just inherited.  They are not a happy family.  The kids get along fine, but the parents are not getting on well at all.

And then the past and the present collide.   St. Cuthbert still is a real person to the people of this part of the Northumberland coast, and he becomes so to the kids as well when they find a boat that travels back to his time, taking them out to the island that was his retreat from the world.   Along the way, there's a Viking raid, the miraculous curing of the youngest girl's burned hand, and the just as miraculous dispersal of the mother's constant fury at everyone and everything, an angry mob of locals protective of their saint, and the unassailable fact of the story that St. Cuthbert is real, and can work miracles. There's also considerable tension about whether everyone is going to make it back from the Dark Ages to the present in one piece....

So this sounded like one I should really love.  But it wasn't what I wanted it to be.  Before I say why, I want to say that it's well-written, and powerful, and vivid and magical.  But.

They inherit an old house on the coast in the north of England full of fascinating old things. Do we get to spend lots of time exploring and tidying the old house finding interesting things? No.

Does the mother, unsympathetically furious all the time, get stuck with all the domestic work in this old house with dubious modern amenities and no emotional support,  with no indication to the reader that she might like to have had different choices? Yes, and this is not something she gets angry about in particular.  Does she end up almost lobotomized by St. Cuthbert when he removes her constant state of angry tension so that she can't even drive past the speed limit?  Yes.  Does she find peace in baking? Yes.  Does she get any part of the time travel adventuring? No.  Do I like this?  No.  The fact that she is furious and over-reacting all the time (until the magical intervention of St. Cuthbert) is understandable, but exaggerated; it dehumanizes her almost as much as her pacification does.

The father seems like a decent chap at first, but it's made clear that he too is  not right--he's all encyclopedic knowledge, all conviction about facts, all distain for anything requiring belief without fact.  And when his fanatical atheism and St. Cuthbert clash, he almost dies (but doesn't), and is forced to admit he was wrong.  This tension between belief and fact is the central point of the book, and this bothered me because I don't think there has to be such a chasm between being a fact loving  historian and a lover of story/legend/the numinous that was a large part of the tension between the atheist father and Cuthbert as living proof of the power of God.  It was not a nuanced portrayal of an atheist realizing he was wrong.

The kids where good characters, though, and the time travel was really good--they'd go sailing out on a clear day, and the mist would come, and they'd be back in Cuthbert's time, occasionally seeing the goat-riding devils that tormented him, etc.....

Quite possibly, if you aren't me, as is the case for the many readers who love this book, it will speak to you more than it did to me.  But for me it was an "I really didn't mind reading this at all and parts of it were very good and I like St. Cuthbert but I will not feel the need to re-read it" sort of book.

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