To Nowhere and Back, by Margaret J. Anderson, for Timeslip Tuesday

To Nowhere and Back, by Margaret J. Anderson, is this week's Timeslip Tuesday, a little treat I bought for myself during the Dark Days when my usual book treats of library holds were not available to me!  It was Anderson's first foray into fiction, back in 1975, and it's just recently come back into print.

Elizabeth is an American girl whose parents, a historian and an author, decide a year in England would be wonderful for all three of them, and that an old thatched cottage in Dorset (although it's only 200 years old, which isn't all that special) is a wonderful place to live!  Elizabeth, who does not feel the lure of the past, disagrees, and she has a hard time fitting in at school.

But then she wanders down to a delipidated cottage nearby, and finds Ann, the girl her own age who lived there two hundred years ago.  Even more oddly, she fuses with Ann, and lives her life for her brief visits (as a spectator within Ann's body, with no noticeable volition of her own), returning to her own present to find that no time has passed.  Ann has a large family, with many younger siblings, including a young baby, and lonely Elizabeth loves this part of being Ann.  But Ann is also hungry, uneducated, and destined to be sent away soon to work for her innkeeper uncle....Ann is also destined to be touched by tragedy.

Maybe if I had read this when I was young, I would have been moved, but it felt more like time tourism (kind of a superficial "here we are in the past" feeling, with little emotional resonance) than an immersive story about two girls connecting through time, and the sorrow in store for one of them changing both of them. I think that the whole idea of escaping one's own life to live that of another girl in the past is something that has more appeal for a child than it does for a grownup, and the fact that the two girls never actually communicate in any meaningful way kept me at arm's length from their peculiar relationship.

In fairness, the New York Times Book Review loved it-- "It educates and edifies, this book does, and is oddly affecting: you really feel the quality of the two different worlds on a day to day basis, united by a single sensibility."  Though I agree Anderson does indeed to an excellent job with her two different worlds, I missed the affecting part.

I'd give it to 8-9 year old me in a second, though, and maybe that reader I was would have been moved, like many on Goodreads, to give it five stars.

1 comment:

  1. Whenever I read MG books from 40 or 50 years ago, I'm nearly always disappointed. This sounds like no exception. Thanks for your thoughts.


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