A news report that a woolly mammoth has been spotted wandering the River Thames. A replica of the Vatican City across the galaxy through the Einstein Line where all the Popes go after they die. A red London bus colliding with a Pharaoh inspecting Cleopatra’s Needle with his entourage of charioteers, while in the background Big Ben strikes seven. And amidst all this, lurks a giant rabbit called Bigamist.
And so we are given some idea of the labyrinthine novel presented to us, as we follow Silver, the story’s heroine, in her quest to find a coveted timepiece, the Timekeeper, which is needed to stabilise Time.
Jeannette Winterson’s adventure Tanglewreck certainly spins the question of time travel and alchemy, playing it out against the familiar backdrop of London. Winterson’s is an ambitious novel, combining time travel, alchemy and different aspects of present-day London, creating a colourful and humorous tapestry of the ever symbolic Time; shot through with a Silver thread of hope throughout in the protagonist’s search for both her family as well as what can be interpreted as her own identity. With technical scientific explanations of black holes, alternative dimensions and particle physics to endorse the seemingly improbable storyline, Tanglewreck becomes more than just a fantasy book. Characters such as Regalia Mason, the sinister but beautiful prophetess-slash-scientist turns well-known concepts on their head, such as her explanation that she is ‘living on borrowed time’ through her theft of the essence of youth. Similarly, one character’s wry advocacy for ‘torture, not violence’ reflects the author’s multi-layering of phrases, so that its narrative functions for more than one audience, often producing different types of humour and irony.
Similarly, there is a poetic use of metaphors which appeals to both adults and children, such as intertwining of the ‘ticking’ of the Timekeeper, Silver’s beating heart and the ‘heartbeat’ of Tanglewreck itself, successfully drawing in the audience without patronising younger readers.
Throughout her journey, Silver often comes to profound and philosophical truths which have the effect of making readers pause and linger over their fundamentals. The narrator’s clear, simple assertion that “sometimes you have to do something difficult because it is important” best epitomises the unwavering dedication needed, as well as the plain and simple courage that is dredged up at the darkest of times: it is here where we see Silver’s innocent compassion and virtues emerge from her ordeals uncompromised.
Although at first glance, the story’s finale may appear disappointing to some, there is a sense of faith that redeems the uncertainty of Silver’s future after her task is completed. Through the endearing concept that the ‘power of love’ is faster than the speed of light (which is, incidentally, three hundred thousand kilometres per second), and the powerful bond of friendship with the loyal Gabriel; the readers are left feeling warmed by the sincerity of Silver, making us wish for a Tanglewreck of our own.
Jeanette Winterson, Tanglewreck (Bloomsbury: London, 2006), pp415, £12.99