“The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October.”
Jonathan Auxier’s highly lauded The Night Gardener is the story of Molly and Kip, two parentless Irish children (orphans or no is yet to be seen), recently arrived in England in search of work. Natch, they find work at a creepy old mansion with a creepy ass tree growing practically inside it. Everyone in the family is pale and thin with dark pools for eyes, and everyone suffers from horrible nightmares night after night. Always a good sign, amirite?! Anyways, soon after arriving Molly notices some big ass muddy foot prints left all over the house, and she soon realizes there’s some wretched old man ghost visiting the house and the creep tree nightly. BUT WHY? Mystery, scares, etc.
So, yes, this book was highly praised, and I hate to say this because I really like Jonathan Auxier as a person, but…this one did pretty much nothing for me. I don’t think it’s a fault of his writing, because aside from a problem with pacing (it’s pretty slow, especially for a middle grade novel) and a really annoying use of the words “dinna” and “canna,” I can’t actually put my finger on why I wasn’t into this one. I just wasn’t. As for the “dinna” and “canna” thing, I think what jarred me about that was it seemed like he was trying to have some sort of linguistic marker that they were Irish people from a long time ago, but those were the ONLY markers in otherwise standard English, and so it always snapped me out of my already limited immersion and made me frown a little bit each time. I prefer my wrinkles to be in the form of smile lines, and so I begrudge things that make me frown 🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁 etc.
I will say that I was puzzled by how much I didn’t like this when compared with how many people, including people whose opinions I almost always agree with, LOVED this book. Maybe it’s because the writing, while nice, wasn’t razzle dazzle enough to hold me since the plot felt a bit plodding. That has something to do with it, to be sure, but have you ever read a book at a bad time and just not enjoyed it because of that? I started reading this book when a friend was visiting me from Vancouver. It was also my birthday weekend, and between those two things I was running around town like a crazy lady, and whenever I tried to read it before bed I could only spare it about three minutes of attention before I was solidly unconscious. THEN I got a stomach flu, which was disgusting and not terribly conducive to reading, and, again, I read maybe twenty pages at a clip (TOPS) before I was snoozing away or barfing. The Night Gardener is written for ten-year-old children and is only 350 pages long, yet it took me ten days to finish it (that’s a lot, for me). Ten days, and for almost the entirety of those ten days I felt grumpy about what I was reading so I don’t know why I even finished it aside from being a stubborn old mule.
Perhaps you’re wondering why, rather than being critical of Auxier or what he’s written for my lack of enjoyment here, I’m taking it on myself, so I want to share some of my thoughts on reading and reviewing with you. Writing reviews for books I loved or books I hated is a snap. I’m easily able to whip out my thoughts in a way that I find at least moderately pleasing to my overactive inner critic. However, when I come across a book that I only have lukewarm feelings towards, I often get lost in trying to articulate those feelings. They’re not bad feelings (aside from the grumpy ones mentioned above), but they’re not great feelings, either. They’re just….meh? Like a silent fart on a warm summer day? Not a stinky one that offends people but also not audibly pleasing like a loud ripper, just something that slips out and nobody’s the better or worse for it? I don’t know why that’s the comparison I came up with but I think it kind of works in my brain so I’m leaving it here outside of my brain for the world to read. I think perhaps it’s because when I just can’t get into a book without necessarily having a major problem with it, it’s more of an issue of reader/book incompatibility, or even book/mood incompatibility, than it is a failing of the work itself.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to lose myself in this book, and so I never did, and the writing and story just weren’t enough my slice of Boston cream pie to make up for that. Add to that the fact that I, like a dingus, read way too many reviews and therefore basically knew the answer to the mystery from the very start, well…sigh. It just wasn’t for me.
For music I want to go with Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” because there is a character in The Night Gardener who plays a hurdy gurdy and the song is kind of creepy, like the book? Superficial connection, I know, but mostly I’m just really obsessed with this song right now.
Where I got it: the library