Margaret Mahy on a story of fantastic adventure, full of astonishment and incalculable events…
I particularly wish I had written Diana Wynne Jones’s The Homeward Bounders. But she wrote it first. Curses!
The hero, Jamie, who knows his lower class city neighbourhood well, is astonished to find there is a green space he does not recognize. Curiosity gets the better of him and he finds himself breaking in on a group of mysterious nameless entities (described as They) who are playing an elaborate game in which every human being is being moved around like a chess piece. Jamie, the startled spy, is detected by They and projected into this multidimensional universe, in which he is twitched from one world to another. ‘If you succeed in returning Home,’ he is told, ‘you may enter play again in the normal manner.’ The story, predictably, is about his search for home. As Jamie works out for himself the rules that govern his new existence he works them out for the reader too.
It is a book for good readers – say from nine to fourteen, but like all mysterious books it is simultaneously a book for any committed reader of any age, a story of fantastic adventure, full of astonishment and incalculable events. A certain sort of imaginative integrity flows through it. The triumphant ending is not totally happy. Jamie wins friendship and love. But in the end he has to behave like a true hero and that involves him in sacrifice. ‘You wouldn’t believe how lonely you get’ is his final comment.
The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones (0 00 675525 9, £4.99 pbk) is published by HarperCollins.
Margaret Mahy’s latest book, Maddigan’s Fantasia (0 571 23015 6), is published by Faber at £12.99 hbk.