REVIEW: Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson

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Nov 4, 2006, 1:22:40 AM11/4/06
TITLE: Tanglewreck
AUTHOR: Jeanette Winterson
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury Children's (July 2006)
ISBN:0 7475 8064 2 PRICE: $16.95 (paperback) 415pages

Reviewed by Ann Skea (
Silver is a small, freckled, orange-haired eleven-year-old. Her family
disappeared whilst on a train-trip to London and since then she has been
looked after by her aunt Mrs Rockabye. Actually, Mrs Rockabye is like the
wicked stepmother in Cinderella, so she makes sure that Silver does all the
work and she keeps her in the cellar and feeds her on scraps. Mrs Rockabye's
chief ally is her pet rabbit (called Bigamous "on account of his habits") who,
unless Silver can bribe him with carrots, spies on her every move.

Silver's Elizabethan ancestor, Roger Rover, was knighted for being a
successful pirate and bringing back great treasures for the queen. One of
these treasures was a wonderful Alchemical Timekeeper and Silver, although she
does not know it, is its guardian and is the holder of the secret of Time.
There are, however, people in the world who know about Silver and who want
that secret.

Abel Darkwater, a sinister, mysterious watch-maker, intends to steal Silver's
secret by using hypnosis and dreams to enter her mind. Regalia Mason, a
scientist who controls the powerful Quanta company and who intends to take
time from those who have time to waste and sell it to important, wealthy
people who never have enough of it, plans to kidnap Silver in order to obtain
her secret. Both know that the Time Tornadoes and Time Traps which have begun
to severely disrupt our world can be controlled by the Timekeeper, and both
know that to have such control would give them immense power.

Adults who have read Jeanette Winterson's Lighthousekeeping, will already know
her superb story-telling skills and willrecognize the child Silver from that
book, and hear echoes of Adam Dark in the name of Abel Darkwater. But
Tanglewreck is a book intended for children and the characters, like the
wicked aunt, the dark villain, and the incompetent thieves (called Thugger and
Fisty), have a pantomime simplicity and pantomime humour about them. Nothing
about Tanglewreck, however, is old-fashioned, dull or fixed. The children are
thoroughly modern and they live in a recognizably modern world of fast food
and technological gadgetry. There are elements of magic, too, which is
fashionably modern in children's books, but it is magic with a strongly
scientific twist. Time travel and Space travel, as well as being an
imaginative dream, are seen as real possibilities based on quantum physics .
Black holes are encountered, as well as worm-holes and parallel universes. And
Dinger the cat, who was bought at Quantum Pets, is in the curious state of
being both alive and dead.

Silver's adventures take her from her home, Tanglewreck, to London and back
again. But they also take her to the ancient underground world of the
Throwbacks (which has a curious resemblance to the maze of sewers below
London), and along the Star Road to a place called Philippi, where Time stand
still. Gabriel, a Throwback boy becomes her companion, and together they have
some truly frightening adventures.Yet, of course, they survive, the secret of
the Timekeeper is revealed, and all is resolved. The ending, however, is not
the happy-ever-after fairy-tale ending of pantomime. Silver has to make
difficult choices, she has to trust her "true heart" rather than follow her
dreams; and her final happiness is realistically and satisfyingly tinged with

Altogether, this is a thoroughly engaging book for young adults and also for
adults readers who enjoy well-written, well-told, imaginative stories.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2006

Ann Skea
Website and Ted Hughes pages:

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