And if a moving story is the purpose of the book it does so brilliantly. But, and it’s a smallish, but. I’m not entirely sure what story the book is trying to tell, and that’s because it is essentially a non-linier collection of short stories.
James is a quiet lonely young boy, who befriends an elderly physicist, Mr Woodford, who works in the nearby Lab 17. Mr Woodford has been shunted off to Lab 17 by his bosses to quietly work out his retirement tinkering with his inventions, one of which, turns out to be a time machine.
One night, James enters the lab only to find Mr Woodford has died, at his desk, not sure what to do, he grabs a device of the work-station and escapes.
Intermingled, within James’ tales of adventures in time, are a number of other short stories about other people, a little boy who scratches pictures of aeroplanes in the dust, and a girl who gets caught up in a wartime bomb are among them. Some obviously linked to James, others appear to have no connection at all.
Some guidance as to what is going on is given when a book called ‘Unfinished Tales’ is referenced. This book of seemingly unconnected tales, who’s stories are often left dangling with no explanation as to what is going on, is obviously a nod to Marsden’s own work.
All the stories are well written and moving in their own way, but there’s no doubt this is a challenging novel that would really need a confident teen reader to make the most of it, as it is a book that doesn’t hand out easy answers, only the reader can decide what they are.
An odd but affecting little book, which I spent some time after closing the back cover, just flipping the book around in my hands, and thinking about it.