Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Aunt Maria: by Diana Wynne Jones
Before they have a chance to catch their breath, Chris and Naomi (more familiarly referred to as "Mig") find themselves bundled in the car with their suitcases and speeding off with Mum to Cranbury-on-Sea to tend to poor old Aunt Maria.
At first, Aunt Maria seems to be a demure old woman, cuddly as a teddy bear and oozing forbearance and patience. But there is a hard, iron side to Aunt Maria that can hardly be believed at first because it is cushioned so sneakily between layers of fluff and sweetness. But gradually the Lakers realise that they are expected to keep house, look after Aunt Maria, and provide the cakes (home-made, not store-bought, mind!) for the tea parties that Aunt Maria has every day with other women from the village.
This is bad enough, but gradually Chris and Mig discover that not only is Aunt Maria not what she seems, but the whole village is amiss. Men wander around like grey-suited zombies. The children are locked away in an institution-like orphanage and chaperoned by some of the ladies that attend Aunt Maria's tea parties. There is a ghost that keeps appearing to Chris at night, and the cat that stalks around outside Aunt Maria's house looks suspiciously like the servant that had been in Aunt Maria's employ before the Lakers arrived.
Aunt Maria's quavering gentleness is offset by Chris's incredibly rude attitude toward her, which becomes refreshing as the book goes on because Aunt Maria just gets more and more sweetly horrendous and you can't wait for Chris to speak his mind. You know there's going to be a point where something happens, for Aunt Maria has to be more than just an eccentric old woman with a whole village wrapped around her finger. Could she be a witch?
Once she turns Chris into a wolf, it seems pretty likely. But how will Mig be able to break the spell on Chris, release the ghost, and save the whole village of Cranbury-on-Sea from Aunt Maria's clutches by herself?
Diana Wynne Jones has written another zinger of a story. Aunt Maria is this perfect villain, devious and horrendous while at the same being so perfectly cozy, and Mig is portrayed as the perfect shy foil to Aunt Maria's prodigious slyness. Before the end of the book you are heartily hating Aunt Maria and just waiting for the climax when you know she will be taken down.
This book can be found on Amazon under the titles of AUNT MARIA and BLACK MARIA.
My rating: *****