I recently re-read Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. First published in 1969, I read this first aged about 11 or 12 at Secondary school. Regular readers will remember that it is one of the 10 books I recommended to Martin Amis.
13 year old Charlotte Makepeace arrives at boarding school for the first time. She is taken out of a line of waiting girls and to a dormitory, where she is the first to arrive. Encouraged to choose a bed, she takes the one nearest the window with distinctive wheels. Charlotte struggles to fit in at school; she is withdrawn and misses her sister Emma. One night she falls asleep and wakes up over 40 years earlier, in 1918 (The book is set in 1963), where she is addressed as Clare Moby and has a little sister Emily. Initially able to time-slip between 1963 and 1918, Charlotte becomes stuck in 1918 when Clare and Emily are moved from boarding at the same school to go to lodge with Miss Agnes Chisel Brown and her obnoxious parents.
I have enjoyed this book for over 30 years. I think that the mark of a truly great novel is that it can enjoyed on different levels- as a child I liked the time-travel/ ghost story elements (and as I have said before I loved school stories). Reading it when older, I am struck by how confused Charlotte is; if teachers and schoolmates can't tell that she isn't Clare, then is she really Charlotte? She stares at mirrors (and is reprimanded for vanity) trying to remember whether it is her face or Clare's. She agonises over the differences in personality between herself and Clare. Her relationship (or Clare's) with Emily is strained.
In 1985, for no reason that I can tell, Farmer revised Charlotte Sometimes and changed the ending. I only have the Red Fox edition above, but am on the hunt for a pre-1985 edition that I have lost or given away; I remember the ending being much more downbeat than the modern one.
I have discovered Penelope Farmer's blog, sadly not updated since last year. In it she tells the story of her meeting Robert Smith from The Cure. It's a good read.
I have learnt from Wikipedia (yes, I know, not the most reliable source) that Charlotte Sometimes is the third in a trilogy about Charlotte and her sister Emma. The other two novels are The Summer Birds and Emma in Winter, both sadly out of print.
Ooh another one you review that I want to go and read - thank you!ReplyDelete
It's wonderful. I hope you enjoy it!ReplyDelete