Book Revisited Pick #4: Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
Amy chose our Book Club Revisited read for August, and she picked a children's "classic": Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle. It was an interesting choice, in that all of us seemed to drag our feet a bit when it came to actually picking up the book and reading it (or didn't read it at all, i.e. Corey). Amy herself said the book wasn't at all what she was expecting, although Mike and I were a bit more enthusiastic about the story.
Despite the book's genuine weirdness, Jones does some really interesting things with this narrative. At the beginning, 17-year-old Sophie is cursed to be an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. Hoping to beat the curse, Sophie journeys away from her family hat shop and encounters the titular moving castle, owned by the simultaneously charming and cold wizard Howl Jenkins. Howl has struck an agreement with a fire demon named Calcifer, and they live in the castle with Howl's apprentice, the kind-hearted Michael. A lot of weird and convoluted adventures happen, lives are imperiled, and hearts are won. I had a little trouble following the plot at times, but the strength of the characters - Sophie and Howl in particular - made up for the structural shortcomings.
Our club found the book a little hard to discuss. I'm not sure why we had so much trouble finding interesting things to say about Howl's Moving Castle, but alas so it was. (Admittedly, our giddiness - a book club trait that is always getting us into trouble - did not help matters). We all agreed that there is something kind of fascinating about this material, and we all had trouble believing that this book could actually be considered a children's book rather than a YA novel.
Personally, I am obsessed with some of the romance novel tropes Jones is playing with here, although I don't think she meant to do such a thing. Howl is a very typical romance novel hero, just a few years younger. He's a little cold-hearted but also charms the pants off women. He loves his family but is also unsure of his place in their lives. He has a love/hate relationship with the heroine (Sophie). He is "reformed" (kind of) by the end. Sophie defies the romance heroine type because of her old-age curse and prickly personality, but by the end, she's fulfilled the dutiful heroine role of reformer-of-man. To see this all happen in a kid's book kind of blew my mind, to be honest. I will definitely be giving it more thought throughout the future.
Up next for Book Club Revisited: It's Corey's turn again, and he chose Karen Thompson Walker's new book, The Age of Miracles. I'm excited, as I was planning to read it anyway. We also added an additional goal of discussing the film Melancholia, as it shares some end-of-the-world themes with Walker's book. Should be a good time.