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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Jeanette Winterson

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To purchase Tanglewreck

Title: Tanglewreck
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006
Length: 415 pages
Availability: Tanglewreck - US
Tanglewreck - UK
Tanglewreck - Canada
Tanglewreck - India
L'Horloge du temps - France
Das Haus am Ende der Zeit - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable, if ultimately a bit thin

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian B- 10/6/2006 Kate Thompson
The Independent . 21/7/2006 Christina Hardyment
The Observer A 2/7/2008 Geraldine Bedell
The Telegraph . 9/7/2006 Dinah Hall
The Telegraph . 16/7/2006 Lloyd Evans

  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus, and most seem to think she has stuffed too much into it

  From the Reviews:
  • "It's all, in the end, a bit too much. There is enough material here for several interesting books, and it's a shame that it has all been crammed into one. () Tanglewreck is an ambitious project, wide-ranging and colourful, but it suffers from a lack of discipline and, more seriously, from a lack of credibility. () The rules that govern the imagined world are insufficiently developed, and the author feels free to change or break them on a whim. Elaborate explanations of the laws of quantum physics are expounded and then ignored, in the belief, presumably, that children won't notice. () Tanglewreck offers plenty of food for thought, and it may inspire younger readers to take an interest in some of these fascinating areas. The author has clearly enjoyed herself, and the reader will be carried along by the vitality of her style and her ever-present sense of adventure." - Kate Thompson, The Guardian

  • "The story's fantastical plot works because of the immediacy and originality of Winterson's writing" - Christina Hardyment, The Independent

  • "This is an exceptional book: big, ambitious and awash with Winterson's usual inventiveness, but not, as the jostling of its big ideas might suggest, too clever by half. Writing for children seems to have lent warmth to Winterson's voice and the novel is leavened with a kind of loving, godmotherly assurance that makes it not merely impressive but enormously likable, and fun. () Once or twice, I wondered if knowing jokes like this weren't perhaps too arch for a book for young readers. But then, none of it should work, really: how could anyone be expected to make something coherent out of such a mad assemblage of ingredients ? But Winterson's wit holds the novel together, along with the appealingly resourceful character of Silver and the pacing of the plot. This is a lightened-up Winterson, who has written a book that is very funny and which holds you, enchanted, right through to the bittersweet ending." - Geraldine Bedell, The Observer

  • "Winterson has a fine ear for children's dialogue and her writing is lucid, pitched perfectly at imaginative young readers who will love concepts such as the Time Tornadoes which hurl busloads of children into the future. But there's a thin dividing line between 'classic' ingredients and stereotypes -- and Winterson crosses it several times. () You have to remember that as a child Winterson learned to read from Deuteronomy, so she is not going to suffer little fools gladly. But, in her eagerness to educate, the over-stuffed plot is sometimes left dangling, so that at the end you are left pondering not on quantum mechanics and the vagaries of time, but on just why Buddleia, who we never even meet, had a gammy leg." - Dinah Hall, The Telegraph

  • " (O)utstanding (..) It has an ambitious premise, which belongs to the wilder-fringes-of-chaos theory. () Handled by a sympathetic imagination, astrophysics is far from uncongenial to a child's intelligence () As Winterson has astutely realised, this idea is the stuff of fairytales. In her hands, relativity seems like child's play." - Lloyd Evans, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Tanglewreck is the name of the house where eleven-year-old girl Silver lives. The rest of her family disappeared four year earlier, and she is now the ward of the horrible Mrs. Rokabye, who doesn't treat her at all well. But Silver is the key to something very significant, and in a time when: "there are strange disruptions in the fabric of Time" itself (or, as one person puts it, "Time ain't wot it used to be") there's greater urgency than ever to discover it.
       There's apparently something called the 'Timekeeper', and: "Whoever controls the Timekeeper controls Time." Silver's father had it, but wouldn't give it up, and now Silver is the key to finding it. The sinister (and ancient) Abel Darkwater does his best to get it from her, but even Silver doesn't know the nature or exact location of the Timekeeper, and so he has a hard time tricking her out of it.
       Escaping from Darkwater's clutches, Silver finds herself underground among the Throwbacks, who (like Darkwater) do not age at the same pace as 'Updwellers' and who also have their reasons for steering clear of Darkwater.
       Meanwhile, there's also Regalia Mason, CEO and President of Qanta, who has big plans for cashing in on time -- one of the few things it doesn't yet control. But Regalia Mason already knows more about time than most, and she has a plan to control it completely. But she, too, must deal with the Timekeeper.
       Silver's adventures lead her through time and across the universe -- including, amusingly, to the place where all the popes have been assembled. But there are also sinister and terrible things going on to do with time travel (possible but complicated) and the control of time.
       Winterson offers some fine invention here, with Time Tornadoes and Time Transfusions and time travel, even if she ultimately relies too much on all the possibilities her world offers, making things a bit messy by the end. But she has a good eye for the details, while not getting too carried away with them, and much of the book -- especially at the beginning -- makes great read-aloud material. There's slapstick (Darkwater's two henchmen, especially when they meet Mrs. Rokabye's pet rabbit, Bigamist) as well as some seriously sinister stuff. Parts seem underdeveloped -- in particular Silver's lost family -- and the two separate evils (Abel Darkwater and Regina Mason) could be more sharply delineated, but on the whole it's a fast-paced and rollicking adventure.
       Tanglewreck is described (by the publisher) as a "novel for young readers", and occasionally it does read like it's been dumbed down for its audience, as if Winterson didn't have faith in their ability to understand some of the complexities on offer. But on the whole her approach isn't patronizing: she avoids much of the technical and linguistic complexity she generally likes to play with, but she offers enough to make for a solid novel.
       Occasionally some of the faults of her 'adult' fiction also crop up, such as the overwritten grand thoughts, most notably in the horrible passage:

     But he was escaping. He was travelling faster than light, because he was travelling at the speed of love.
       (There are circumstances where one can get away with a sentence like that, but Winterson does not offer them here.)
       Younger readers certainly should enjoy these adventures, but it's too bad Winterson wasn't a bit more ambitious (and had a little more confidence in her audience), because there's considerable wasted potential here.

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Tanglewreck: Reviews: Jeanette Winterson: Other books by Jeanette Winterson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Jeanette Winterson was born in 1959. She won the 1985 Whitbread Award for best first novel (for Oranges are not the only Fruit), the 1987 John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, and the 1989 E.M.Forster Award, among others.

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© 2008-2012 the complete review

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