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Charmed Life

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by Diana Wynne Jones

Published 1977

So I’m afraid that my reading (and thus this blog) has been in a bit of a rut lately …  frankly, I’ve cheated a bit on my usual rotation because I’ve been enjoying the Amelia Peabody books so much that keep skipping over the boring looking books so I can get to the next Peabody story!  That, combined with the fact that I’ve also read several Pride & Prejudice variations/sequels that were so dreadful/fanfictionish that I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve read them, means that this blog has been a tad repetitive.  And while that trend will likely continue (because let’s face it, I read basically the same types of books all the time), I’ve branched out a bit by starting Diana Wynne Jones’s “Chrestomanci” series.

This is a series that I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time (pretty much every since I found out about Jones about a year ago when I read Fire & Hemlock).  The problem is that everyone seems to have a different opinion on the order in which the books should be read.  Some people are adamant that they be read chronologically.  Others are just as determined that they only be read in published order.  Some people are ambivalent, saying that they can be read in any order – except you have to read first (there are multiple opinions one which book is).  I just couldn’t decide how to do it!

In the end, I ran into someone on tumblr who convinced me to go with the published order, mainly because we got into a passionate discussion about the injustice of the Chronicles of Narnia being republished in chronological rather than original published order; we agree that this is a terrible, terrible decision, and we both spend time thrusting The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe into people’s hands and demanding that they read it before reading The Magician’s Nephew no matter what the numbers on the spine say.

ALL THAT TO SAY that Charmed Life is the first-published of the Chrestomanci books, and so I read it first.

The other problem I have with reading/reviewing Jones’s books in general is that she has an almost cult following.  I’ve discovered over the years that I’m simply not clever.  I read books and more or less take away the actual story from them.  But extrapolating theories and making insightful and subtle connections – not my thing.  (Case in point: I have been mocked by multiple people online for my personal indifference towards the A Series of Unfortunate Events books.  I just didn’t “get” them.  No one ever bothers to explain what it is that I haven’t gotten, but I’m apparently incredibly obtuse for not getting what I’m supposed to get, because while I appreciated the intriguing writing style, the point of those books is just beyond me.)  So sometimes, while I enjoy Jones’s stories and characterization, I find her endings a bit abrupt and disappointing.  But I’m scared to say so because the entire We-Love-Diana-Wynne-Jones-Club jumps all over me for my inability to “get” her writing (tumblr, I’m mostly talking to you).  Ah well.  I guess what I’m saying is – reading is about opinions and is incredibly subjective, so if I decide I do or don’t like one of Jones’s books, please don’t let that take away from your ability to enjoy (or not) what she’s written.

Wow, this is a really long entry that, thus far, hasn’t actually reviewed a book!  Gracious.

So.  Charmed Life.  It was a good book and I liked it.  I found Gwendolyn to be above-and-beyond disturbing.  She gave me the legit creeps, and while I could somewhat understand Cat’s love for her, since she was his sister, etc., I couldn’t really understand why he continued to yearn to have her back even after discovering how she had used and abused him.  Consequently, Cat kind of got on my nerves.

The concept, however, that every time there’s a major battle or decision or whatever, that another world is created that has the opposite result, so that there are multiple worlds all similar yet different – I love that idea.  It’s perfect, and it gives Jones the ability to write about a world that is a lot-but-not-exactly-like our own.

Overall a strong 4/5, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series (I’ve only read The Magicians of Caprona so far).

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4 thoughts on “Charmed Life

  1. Hehe! I enjoyed your comments about ‘not getting’ books – happens to me all the time! I’ll read a review that tells me the book I just read was a postmodern existential allegorical metaphysical deconstruction of a Greek tragedy…and there was me thinking it was just a good story…

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    • haha, yes, or the opposite – people rave about the deep, thought-provoking imagery, while I can’t get past the part where I just HATE ALL THE PEOPLE. (Actually, I haven’t read your review on Gatsby yet, but that’s a book I feel that way about – I realize that it’s supposed to be a Great American Novel… and I suppose it is, technically… but I just hate every single person in that book; I also hate the way that Gatsby’s relationship to Daisy is so romanticized, when she was just as much of an adulterer as her husband… haha, I would be such a terrible literature teacher!)

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      • I must admit I don’t like anybody in Gatsby except Gatsby! But my deep, enduring love for him outweighs my dislike of everybody else. ;)

        I’m also fascinated by Daisy – I wouldn’t say I like her, but I sort of pity her. Wouldn’t praise any of them for their moral standards though!

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  2. Pingback: The Lives of Christopher Chant | The Aroma of Books

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