Midnight Is A Place by Joan Aiken

Midnight Is a Place by Joan Aiken front cover

Midnight Is a Place by Joan Aiken

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve never wholly clicked with Joan Aiken. I think, sometimes, some of it stems from my preferences; I like stories with a particular taste and style and frame. I like being able to handle them and know what I’m going to get and then being delighted in how my expectations are subverted. Outfox me, please, I long for it. But I think with Joan Aiken, I’m always struggling to understand, trying to figure out what’s going on and where it is, and how I should feel about that. This is no criticism; it’s a testament to her wild imagination and fiercely convincing world-building. Everything feels right and then, suddenly, off. A mirror, cracked. A world remade and reshaped by somebody who is undoubtedly brilliant. I am a little cowed by that, I think, and it’s hard for me to find my place in the text.

And yet Midnight Is A Place is outstanding; fierce, rich, full of detail, but it’s a detail that I chase after and never quite get hold of. There’s so much packed in this novel – family history, dramatic personal change, hogs! in! sewers! – that I ache for time to explore it, to discover more about this and that before being pulled away to study the other. And again this is a testament to how good she is: there’s so much here, whether it’s the nuanced, subtle details of character, or the barely managed wilderness of the landscape, or it’s simply those hogs that roam the sewers that thread like an artery underneath the world.

But here’s the thing: sometimes it doesn’t matter how I feel about a book. I can not be wholly comfortable with something, but I can recognise how great it is. I can recognise the mark of an author who is fine, fine, fine with her craft and I can understand how important this might be to somebody just discovering what language is and what it can be shaped to be. I would recommend this without batting an eyelid because it is good, powerful, bold fiction.

(et aussi j’aime Anna-Marie).

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7 comments

  1. I agree with everything you say here, including the observation that her wild imagination fizzes so much that it’s almost impossible to grab hold of the detail that we all chase after. (Which is why I chase so hard after it all in post after post!)

  2. I know exactly what you mean about Aiken. I never liked her novels as much as her short stories, which I adore. This was always one of my favourites of her novels, though. It’s maybe the darkest, but for me the one that was the least extravagant of them in terms of crazy plots and characters.

      • I think some publisher has recently reissued the Armitage family stories – those are a good start. There were a number of collections published by Puffin in the sixties and early seventies that you might still find. “The Serial Garden” is one of my favourite stories. They range from uproariously funny “Yes, but today is Tuesday” or “The Apple of Trouble” to haunting and elegiac (The Serial Garden). “A Room Made of Leaves” is another all-time fave. If you like Nicholas Stuart Grey’s stories, you’ll like Aiken’s – they have a similar tone.

      • ‘The Serial Garden’ was recently republished in the Armitage family collection also called The Serial Garden. I’d also recommend The Monkey’s Wedding (a posthumous collection) and The Kingdom under the Sea among many others.

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