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28 November 2005

Clockwork (1996)

By Philip Pullman

Barrie Trinkle for Amazon: "As the townspeople of Glockenheim gather in the White Horse Tavern on the eve of the unveiling of a new figure for their great town clock, Karl, the clockmaker's apprentice, reveals to Fritz, a young storyteller, that he has not been able to construct the figure. A new clock figure is expected of all apprentices, and Karl is the first in hundreds of years to fail. Fritz, in his turn, has the beginnings of a new story to tell, and as it rolls off his tongue, its dark antagonist materializes and offers Karl his dearest wish. With its eerie black-and-white illustrations by Leonid Gore and its happily-ever-after ending to some thrilling suspense, Clockwork is a fine fairy tale for younger children and a thought-provoking twist on the art of narrative for older ones."

Our friend Andy, a primary school teacher in England, recently read this novel to his class. He remarked that his students found the multiple storylines challenging, but that the challenge is part of the novel's appeal. I loved Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, so I thought I would fly through this slim volume to see what else this master storyteller had up his sleeve.

I would have loved this story as a child. Much as I was astonished - at age 13 - by Frank Herbert's glossary in the fictional book Dune, which revealed new possibilities beyond ordinary narratives, this novel would have challenged my understanding of timelines, story archs, and the overlap of reality and fantasy. Where did the story start? Was it in motion the whole time? Did Fritz dream of things that really happened, or did he simply dream them into being? The paths are wild and tangled in this compelling work of youth fiction - yet another Pullman book I cannot wait to share with my girls.

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