DWJ March – The Game: Diana Wynne Jones

P1020421I’d originally intended not to review anything for DWJ March except The Islands of Chaldea, but I picked The Game up a couple of weeks ago to re-read (since I’d only read it once before), and thought I might as well post my thoughts on it to coincide with Kristen’s prompt.

'The Game' (2007 hardback cover)

‘The Game’ (2007 hardback cover)

(HarperCollins 2008)

Hayley Foss, who lives with her strict grandparents (well, with her very strict grandmother and more easy-going grandfather), is abruptly packed off in disgrace to Ireland to join her cousins in Aunt May’s guest house. What makes the banishment hard to take is that she doesn’t really know why she’s caused a problem – she knows it’s something to do with her friends, musicians Fiddle and Flute, but not why walking in the mythosphere would destroy her grandfather’s work and annoy Uncle Jolyon.

Once at the Castle, as her cousin Mercer calls it, Hayley is plunged into an entirely different world to the strictly regimented one with which she’s familiar: there are many cousins, sons and daughters of several aunts: the Tighs and Laxtons, naughty Tollie (who’s Mercer’s son), and Troy and Harmony, children of Aunt Ellie, who lives in Scotland. She’s initiated into “the Game”, which Harmony manages for all the children: since Hayley’s entirely unfamiliar with it, her first trips are with Troy. They walk strands of the mythosphere and retrieve various items, and Tollie nearly always cheats.

While on one of these trips, the last game, Hayley finds herself separated from Troy, and discovers that she’s involved in some prophecy which has to do with why she and the other children shouldn’t be playing The Game, and why Uncle Jolyon doesn’t like her.

In this rather short book, Diana Wynne Jones weaves myths and legends (particularly Greek myth, but Baba Yaga turns up in an unusually benevolent guise), the stars and constellations, while Hayley discovers her heritage and is able to fulfil the prophecy. It’s fun and interesting, and there are lots of lovely hints about myths which are never fully explained – Actaeon and his dogs, for example – or updated: Sisyphus is doomed to never-ending paperwork, for example, rather than pushing a boulder up a hill. While Hayley is on her visit to the mythosphere with Flute, they encounter a whole series of little vignettes of swan-related legends from Swan Lake to The Wild Swans to what appears (to an adult reader) to be the start of Leda’s encounter with the swan, which are over with in half a paragraph.

The book is also a little frustrating, because one wishes, reading it, that there was just more of it. Because it’s short, and there are a lot of characters, only a few are characterised in any detail: Hayley, Troy, Harmony. There’s also so much invention that one wishes Jones just had gone into things in a bit more detail – not spelling things out, but expanding on the family relationships, in particular, and Hayley’s life with her grandparents.

So my conclusion is that it’s probably great for a younger reader, since Hayley’s a lovely character and her adventure both is fun and has stakes, but I was left wanting more.

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7 Responses to DWJ March – The Game: Diana Wynne Jones

  1. I don’t think I’ve read The Game since it was first published! I only just this past weekend got a copy of my own, so I’ll have to reread it soon. I’ve just reread Everard’s Ride and loved it exactly as much as I remembered, so I’m spoiled on DWJ novellas for a bit. :p

  2. Ela says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever read EVERARD’S RIDE, so must get round to finding that. I’d not read THE GAME since I bought it, and it was better than I’d remembered, if still frustrating.

  3. Kristen M. says:

    This has always been my thought on this book too — that I just wish it had been longer and more fleshed out. As an intro to a wide variety of myths though, it’s a good start for kids.

    • Ela says:

      I suspect that a bit of guidance might be needed, actually, since Jones doesn’t explain it all for her readers, though she does explain the myth behind the main plot.

  4. Pingback: DWJ March: the end | Ela's Book Blog

  5. calmgrove says:

    I liked this review, Ela. I too was rather disappointed with The Game because it seemed to have so much potential which never manifested itself (other provisos here: http://wp.me/s2oNj1-hayley).

    Now, Everard’s Ride, that deserves a re-read; it was republished in Unexpected Magic though I’m not sure that ever appeared in a UK edition. My main reservation about the collection was that Everard’s Ride was misplaced in this collection: first, its additional length made the paperback physically awkward to handle and, second, its setting and plot convolutions were a mismatch with the unidirectional flow of the other tales; it should really remain separately published as standing on its own merits.

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