Thursday, June 14, 2018

Tom's Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce

Staff review by Chris Saliba

When an old grandfather clock strikes 13 at midnight, a new world is revealed to a young boy.

Tom Long is sent to live with his Uncle Alan and Aunt Gwen when his brother, Peter, develops measles. They live in a block of flats that was once a large old country house. It’s a rather grim, urban building, with no garden, only an uninspiring yard that is used to park cars and leave rubbish. Tom is unhappy; he’d rather be home with his brother Pete.

At night he notices the strange grandfather clock in the communal hallway. It keeps odd hours, and at midnight strikes 13 times. Tom decides to get up and explore. He opens the backdoor and instead of  the dingy backyard, he finds it transformed into a magical garden from the Victorian era. He meets a young girl named Hatty.

As Tom develops more of a friendship with Hatty, he discovers she is an orphan, having lost both her parents. Time moves back and forth as Tom visits the midnight garden again and again, and he gets to know Hatty at different times of her life. Eventually, at the end of Tom’s stay, the midnight garden disappears and Tom screams in shock. Only then does the mysterious landlady Mrs Bartholomew explain the secrets of the garden.

First published in 1958, Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden is a nostalgic fantasy that idealises a lost Victorian world of pleasure gardens and beautiful mansions. It has a hazy, dreamy quality that works almost like a narcotic on the reader. Philippa Pearce skilfully creates a fantastic yet believable Arcadia, fully imagined in intricate detail. When contrasted against the drab suburban environment of the block of flats, it seems only right that the midnight garden exists, if only in dreams.

A children’s novel that demonstrates the central place fantasy takes in our emotional life, even how it contributes to our well being.

Tom's Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce. Published by HarperCollins. ISBN: 9780062696588 RRP: 14.99

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