I am a fan of Margaret Mahy’s writing and I was delighted to discover that her Young Adult novel The Tricksters was a set text for the first module in my MA in Children’s Literature. I couldn’t wait to start reading the book, especially as it had been given such rave reviews.
Image courtesy of childrensbookshop.com
What it’s about: Goodness, it’s hard to know where to start with this as the story is quite convoluted. The main gist of the plot is as follows. The story opens in New Zealand (Mahy’s homeland) with the Hamilton family and a few hangers-on arriving at their beach house – called Carnival’s Hide – for the Christmas holidays. But as soon as their bags are unpacked, they are visited by a trio of brothers who aren’t what they seem… or are they? No one knows because they appear suddenly one day on the beach, out of nowhere. The story’s heroine, teenager Harry (Ariadne), is convinced she has created them from the pages of the book she is secretly writing but they insist that they are descendants of Teddy Carnival, who once lived at the beach house and drowned in the sea many years earlier. The arrival of these brothers calls into question who is real and who isn’t and causes unrest amongst the family members. As the book nears its end, deep and serious family secrets start being aired. The question is whether anyone will come of out this the same as they were before.
Sam’s review: Even though I try to share a lot of what I read on my Masters with Holly, this was definitely not a book for her. Some of the themes were too mature for her age group and, to be honest, I really struggled with the storyline. I think the plot itself was a wonderful one – truly original and with the promise of being very spine-tingling. However, from page one I battled to get into it. I tried over and over again for that moment when a book grabs you and keeps you hooked but it didn’t happen. Instead I started dreading trying to read it.
I think the main problem for me was that there were just too many characters to keep hold of. Harry (Ariadne) was the one we were most meant to identify with or sympathise with as it was into her mind we were most often taken. However, even when this happened, other characters intruded. The narration skipped so much between everyone that I couldn’t create that all important link to the text, as I kept trying to remember who said or did what and how were they related to the other person, etc. Had Mahy focused on Harry, I think this book would have been excellent.
This can be seen at the beginning, in chapter 2. Harry is with her two younger siblings at the beach, and her feelings at being a middle child are cleverly captured: ‘Being the middle one of the family seemed like an illness she had suffered all her life, which might finally kill her if things did not change’ (page 22), and she was ‘sick of being gratefully but carelessly praised for docility when she wanted to have a turn at being the difficult, brilliant one instead…’ (page 22)
There are moments of narrative magic too in this part of the book. The three of them are talking about what they would like for Christmas. Benny and Serena scoff at Harry for saying she wants a book, but then she tells them it isn’t just any old book:
‘It’s a special book… As you read my book you alter the world… It would be just little changes to start with, and nothing would move while you watched it. But each time you looked up, the world would have altered more and more. Things would get brighter, and the moon would come down, inch after inch, until it broke into a thousand little moons. Mirrors would begin to cry silver and leak out rainbows and the glass people would come out searching for those they belonged to. You’d look up from a page and see the reflections getting about, peering into people’s faces and when they found the right one they’d hug them, and from then on that person would be seen in their true beauty.’ (page 23)
For me, The Tricksters would have been a special book if Mahy could have kept it a little simpler. I’ve not read many novelists who write with such readable poetic ease and some of the images she has created in this book are breathtaking. I just wish I could have become more involved with the plot and enjoyed the story. As it was, I was relieved to come to the end and hand it back to the library.
Have you ever wanted to like a book but just couldn’t?
Have you ever been surprised by a book and loved one you thought you’d hate?
Please share your reading experiences!