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Jones, Diana Wynne - The Game

The Game began promisingly, introducing a young orphan named Hayley Foss who has recently left her grandparents' quiet home to join a boisterous gathering of cousins she has never met. As the story explored Hayley's strange home life and her interactions with the cousins, hints of otherwordliness gave way to full-blown fantasy, comfortingly reminscent of Diana Wynne Jones's earlier books. I quickly became engrossed and was thoroughly enjoying myself - until the story slammed shut abruptly, leaving me surprised and annoyed.

This is only half of a DWJ book. No, it doesn't end in the middle. Instead the first three-eighths are grafted directly onto the final eighth. I can't say it's not worth reading, but I was disappointed.

My experiences with The Game got me thinking about the structure of a typical DWJ book, and I think I'm going to explore that idea in a separate post. But basically, The Game skips most of what's often one of the most intriguing sections of this author's work, where the character is repeatedly tested or challenged and forced to grow as a result. Hayley grows a bit, but in most cases she simply discovers things that she didn't know previously, and reacts to them.

After being introduced to Hayley on the night she arrives at the family home in Ireland, we learn more about her in flashback. She has always lived with her rigid, controlling grandmother and her mellow, scholarly grandfather and never knew her parents. Grandfather, under the direction of bossy Uncle Jolyon, is constantly working on some sort of business that requires him to keep track of the entire world, from the stock markets to the weather. In addition to these mundanities, he's also keeping track of some distinctly mystical aspects of our planet. But Hayley is so unworldly - she's home-schooled by Grandmother, not allowed to go off the property by herself, and has no friends to speak of - that his magical activities seem no more unusual to her than his attempts to explain the solar system.

After Hayley inadvertently causes a magical incident at home while she's being punished for speaking rudely to her unpleasant uncle, she's pushed off to Ireland where she meets the aforementioned cousins. She's surprised and intrigued by their activities - but again, she's not really equipped to distinguish between situations that are just new to her and occurrences that are physically impossible. A trip to the beach and her cousins' otherwordly quest game - The Game - are both equally novel. But as Hayley and her cousins play The Game, we begin to get some clues as to what exactly is different about this family.

All too quickly, matters come to a head. Hayley's young adult cousin Harmony, who organizes and leads The Game, has repeatedly explained that Uncle Jolyon mustn't discover that they are playing it. But the cousins are betrayed by one of their own, and Hayley, Harmony, and Harmony's brother Troy flee Ireland for another family home in Scotland. There, after a brief interlude involving a large meal and a love-struck aunt, the three are launched into a no-holds-barred version of The Game, which soon ends in a very short showdown with Uncle Jolyon, followed by the most abrupt and unsatisfying final wrap-up I've seen from this author.

The very richness of the earlier sections caused me to think that something complex and lengthy and wonderful was being built - perhaps even something like Fire and Hemlock, my favorite DWJ novel. Hayley herself seemed like a combination of Polly (F&H) and the very young Christopher Chant (The Lives of Christopher Chant). I should have tempered my hopes with the physical evidence of the slimness of the book: just when things should have really been taking off, there were no more than 50 pages left to read.

Will DWJ ever come back to us for real, and write another book like (depending on your preferences) Fire and Hemlock, The Homeward Bounders, Archer's Goon, Hexwood, or Howl's Moving Castle? I don't know: she's been ill, and I'm wondering if her publishers are overpressuring her for more output. But in any case, The Game is definitely not the book I've been waiting for.

Read more ...


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 22nd, 2007 06:11 pm (UTC)
(Popping over via. the link you posted on the DWJ community.)

You know, I think you're converting me somewhat on this. I did enjoy the book, and I still enjoyed the book on a second reading, but you're right in that it was unbalanced. I did feel satisfied on a first reading, when I was rushing around gleefully spotting references, but much less so on the second. My husband is also a huge DWJ fan, and he read it the day after I did, and his opinion was much the same as yours. Still, overall I did enjoy it, and still do.

Of her recent books, I was disappointed in The Pinhoe Egg, and didn't care for The Merlin Conspiracy, but I did like Conrad's Fate - mostly because I love cocky teenage Christopher. But, then, my least favourite of all her books is A Sudden Wild Magic, which isn't too recent.

By the way, while I was here, I was a bit nosy and glanced at your journal, and I saw the magical word "Lymond" mentioned. I read that series a few months ago, and fell totally, massively, enormously in love.
Mar. 22nd, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC)

Lymond, is it? (Heh heh heh ... )

Yes, gradually everyone will have to read six huge volumes of historical fiction filled with intellectual minutiae and angst! (Lashings of angst ...!)

More seriously, I'm glad you've read the series. It's really great, and more people who like fantasy ought to read it because so many good fantasy authors have done so themselves.

And I expect people to read my journal (including the userinfo, even) - that's why I write it. I'm trying to find more people with whom to talk books!

Take care,

- Cho

Mar. 22nd, 2007 09:28 pm (UTC)
Talking about books, eh? Actually, I wrote two long Lymond-related LJ posts - one aimed at people who hadn't read the books, and one long reaction post aimed at those two people on my Friends list who had. But I then decided to sit on them for a few days, since I'd written them when the emotions were still very immediate and raw. I've still not put the finishing touches to those posts, or posted them. So much for that idea.

I've just started reading the House of Niccolo series, but it's not really grabbed me yet, over a hundred pages in. I deliberately waited a few months, so I wouldn't be constantly comparing it with Lymond, but maybe it's still too early.
Mar. 25th, 2007 04:47 am (UTC)

I didn't like Niccolo nearly as much either. And I really wonder if it's not because he's just not as tormented a character as Lymond. But maybe I should give the books another chance - I could borrow them from my sister.

I'd be interested in reading what you wrote about Lymond ... why not post the things you wrote? You can always put a disclaimer on, about how this is a draft.

- Cho

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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