[Book Review] ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ by Phillipa Pearce


Tom’s Midnight Garden, by Phillipa Pearce is about a boy named Tom who, when his little brother Peter becomes ill with the measles, has to go and live with his aunty Gwen and uncle Alan so he does not catch the illness himself. He then discovers a secret garden and his need for an amusement draws him to a young girl called Hatty with the same need. This is unusual because Hatty and Tom are from separate times. Hatty is from the Victorian era Tom is from the Post-War era, but in the garden it seems all the rules of time cease to exist.

It seems in my opinion, that their childhood innocence and need to have fun opens up the doors to that moment in which time stops or meets, but when Hatty loses her childhood innocence and finds someone else to help her she can no longer see Tom. It all happens during the course of a fortnight in Tom’s dimension but in about a decade in Hatty’s dimension.

The story starts in a slow obvious manner but as it goes on it becomes more and more unpredictable. The events of the story follow on one another by Tom’s quest for adventure and how it leads him to a different era.

Originally published in 1958, the book “is generally regarded as a masterpiece of English children’s literature,” according to Wikipedia. I feel that the story would have made a lot of positive difference if it had been written in first person rather than third person. The setting is described in great detail as the whole story revolves around the Melbourne apartments and the garden. How the characters felt and behaved were described in great detail because by reading the book you could tell how they were feeling and their state of mind. The detail was important because it laid a foundation for events to follow. I would like to have reduced the amount of unnecessary storylines as they complicate the story.

Other characters such as the Kitsons provide a lighter hearted view to what would otherwise be a very confusing and boring story. I would describe Tom as an unsatisfied always-questioning young boy. I would describe him as unsatisfied because when he was in the Kitsons’ apartment he felt he had to break free and explore and once he was in the garden he was happy but felt there was more beyond the walls of the garden. Hatty seems more content than Tom and has embraced her situation as difficult as it may be.

The author described the characters in little detail and left it to the reader’s imagination. The characters had their different qualities but I could not identify with them; therefore, I could not like them. I would describe the main relationship between Tom and Hatty as a codependent one, but Hatty is in a way dominating the relationship as she can stop the relationship once she does not need Tom anymore. The character that has changed most in the story is Hatty for the simple reason she grew up and left her past behind, including Tom.

I think Phillipa Pearce wanted to tell this story because it may be influenced by her childhood and her interest in time travel and science fiction. I felt it was a lot of build up to what seemed like a very obvious end. It made me think about how the concept of time travel is not a recent thing and many people must have been thinking about the concept before the 21st century. I think it is important to say that the book was not written to its full potential, as it would have been a very good story if it were not so overly complicated. I would not recommend this story as it was boring and time consuming (but I would recommend the film).

(c) Stella Tanaka Musiyiwa, 2008

This book review was first published by OhmyNews International

About the reviewer

Stella Musiyiwa was born in Zimbabwe in 1995. When she was six years old she moved to England. Her first short story, “Chloe and the Mermaid“, was published on the Web site, Kids on the Net, when she was nine years old.

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