Sunday, April 15

Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones

When Eric "Cat" Chant and his sister, Gwendolen, almost drown, they are left with no parents and in the arms of the town's charity. Gwendolen, however, has bigger plans in store for herself. She is a witch and she will do whatever she must to make something grand of herself.

Gwendolen writes to the mysterious Chrestomanci and implores him to take him into their care. Soon she and Cat are living in his castle...but there is a muffled eeriness about the place. Gwendolen is disgusted to learn that not only does she not have the reign of the grounds but she is not be permitted to use magic.

Cat is ensnared in his sister's plots and treachery. With everything she does making him feel more and more helpless, who can he turn to? Is Chrestomanci even to be trusted?

I read this book for the first time over a decade ago, in a time when I was not the best of readers. It swept me away and so - with three copies of it on my shelf - I decided to return to it again once more. It was wonderful to re-experience the moments I remembered so well but also to rediscover those I had forgotten and sharpen the details which were blurry in my mind.

This is the kind of book I can wrap myself up in. I love being immersed in the world of Chrestomanci Castle much as Cat is. Unlike Gwendolen, Cat is not a dominating character but he is very sympathetic and likeable. You can't help but connect with Cat as he deals with the situations thrown his way and how loyal he is to Gwendolen - his only remaining family member - regardless of how relentless and rude she can be.

Despite Gwendolen being a rather spoiled little brat, I found myself able to relate to her aggravations. Perhaps that just confirms the cruder side of my own nature - particularly at a younger age - but that sense of being rebutted and refused at every turn is aggravating and Gwendolen does not give up on her goals for one moment. I have to admire her for that, even if she is selfish.

Neither is there a black and white portrayal of which characters are cruel and sympathetic. There are lovely persons like Molly who are hard not to like but then there is Mrs Sharp who cares well enough for Cat and Gwendolen but is ever seeking an opportunity to boost herself in the world. Also, Julia uses her anger at Gwendolen to bring out her own cruel side.

A character that I really liked in the novel is Janet, mostly for her way of speaking. Her turns of phrase and the way she expresses herself through the words she uses is magnificent. Where Chrestomanci is concerned - at least in 'Charmed Life' - I always felt a little torn.

The character of Chrestomanci is eloquent and infuriating. He possesses what I like to think of as the Darcy Factor. He is presented as a stately character who can be irksome and a little clueless with how best to handle Cat and particularly Gwendolen. The reader can't help but be drawn to him, never quite understanding his intentions, questioning his actions.

I loved re-reading 'Charmed Life' and after more than a decade cannot reccomend it enough. I look forward to re-reading 'The Lives of Christopher Chant.'

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Harper Collins and is used solely as an aide to the review.

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