Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Time at the Top by Edward Ormondroyd (1963)

When Susan Shaw disappears suddenly one afternoon, her father and others in her apartment building fear that she has been kidnapped. In reality, though, Susan has ridden the elevator to the top floor and slipped through a time warp that has transported her back to 1881. There she meets Victoria and Robert, a pair of siblings who are concerned about a smooth-talking gold digger who is after their widowed mother's money - and her hand in marriage. When Susan strategizes to help them scare the suitor away, her own fate becomes magically wrapped up with theirs in a way that will eventually alter history.

I think I was a little bit unfair to this book as I was reading it because I could not stop comparing it to the brilliant novel that is Tom's Midnight Garden. The comparison is virtually unavoidable, since both books are time slip stories where ordinary kids step into other eras by simply exploring different parts of their own homes, but it still felt like I was constantly thinking, "This isn't how Philippa Pearce would handle this." Time at the Top simply isn't as emotional as Tom's Midnight Garden. The story is told in the voice of the author, who has purportedly heard Susan's story secondhand from their mutual neighbors, and who is one of the few who believes wholeheartedly in what eventually happens to Susan. The story is written more like a report than a reflection on an experience, which makes it more difficult to empathize with the characters.

That said, if I don't compare the two books, Time at the Top is an interesting novel on its own. I like that the entire story is told in the first couple of chapters from the logical, reality-based point of view of Susan's father and other adults, and then retold in detail from Susan's perspective in the remaining chapters. I also like the ending. Susan has an idea which is not entirely unpredictable, but it is thoroughly surprising that she is able to pull off what she plans. I wasn't sure I liked the ending at first because it is told in Ormondroyd's voice as the narrator, and we don't get to find out Susan's feelings at the final moments of the story, but then I found out there is a sequel (All in Good Time), and I realized the ending really is one heck of a good set-up for a follow-up story. I only hope I can find a copy of that second book!

Time at the Top is the exact kind of fantasy novel I tolerate best. There isn't a complicated explanation of how the magic (in this case, time travel) works, but it's not so vague that I was constantly distracted or confused. I always felt that I could completely believe in what was happening, and that Susan, despite many obstacles, would eventually come out okay. A really enjoyable and quick read appropriate for all ages.

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