Couch Pumpkin: Sofa Adventures
News and reviews for the big and small screens…where potatoes fear to tread.

The Tricksters

Sometimes you read a book that remains in your heart forever. The Tricksters is one of those books for me. So it was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of its author, the New Zealand author Margaret Mahy.

Fittingly, I encountered The Tricksters three times.

The first was as a child, 9 or 10, in the long summer months which seemed to go on forever. I had devoured the junior section of our local library and was forced to move on to the ‘Upfront’ section (what we would probably call YA these days). The Tricksters appealed to that part of me that loved tales spun with magical, supernatural threads.

As soon as I met Ariadne ‘Harry’ Hamilton, I fell in love. This girl, 17,  an owl in a hedge of messy hair, was like the older version of myself – bookish, awkward, and, most importantly, a writer with secret tomes squirrelled away. But Harry is also quite unlike me – the middle child of a huge family, overshadowed by her glamorous older sister Christobel and overlooked in favour of her smaller siblings. When the clan decamp to their holiday home at Carnival’s Hide, Harry becomes fascinated by an old mystery – the death of young Teddy Carnival. When three brothers arrive, claiming to be distant relatives of Teddy, Harry’s world becomes increasingly fractured and chaotic – especially when the Carnivals turn out to be more than anybody imagined.

Of course, as a child, I didn’t understand what it meant when Harry said she had ‘made love’ with a ghost (‘isn’t that what all writers do?’ says her lover, Felix). That came later, when I returned to the book aged seventeen myself. Now I was captivated by the bittersweet romance and the charm of Felix, the best of the brothers. I recognised Harry’s coming of age (both sexual and creative, crucially intertwined) and the importance of her self-assertion. And then I lost the book.

Some years later, I decided to stop fighting the inevitable and embrace my ‘Harry-ness’ by starting to write the stories I have always carried with me. And I thought back to The Tricksters and bought it again. Mahy’s masterful prose blew me away, as did the Platonic and even Freudian implications of the three Carnivals. This layered, complex story – a paranormal romance in some ways, but so much more – is the kind of book I would one day love to write. A story that captures love, hope, loss and the tangled web of family relationships like few others for young readers.

This timeless story should be more widely recognised as a modern classic. But I am sure that Mahy will be remembered for her stunning contribution to children’s fiction. After all, as The Tricksters tells us, it is the writer’s unique power to bring worlds to life – worlds which can be inhabited long after our passing, for as long as there are readers to share them.
May that be a very long time indeed.

p.s. some interesting academic musing on the name ‘Carnival’ here. There are apparently a few papers which deal with Mahy’s work and in some cases The Tricksters in particular. This doesn’t surprise me.

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