RETURN TO HARKEN HOUSE by Joan Aiken

RETURN TO HARKEN HOUSE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Julia, 11, tells how she is sent for the summer term, in the dark days before WW II, to a bleak old house she barely remembers, where her father (Gerald) and stepmother (Trudl) now live. There, to her horror, angry voices from the past speak through her at unexpected moments--Joshua Harken, a 17th-century alchemist whose tragic end remains a mystery; her own parents, in the throes of their long-ago divorce. Julia feels abandoned, and with reason: her siblings are grown, her mother has a new family, and she's to be sent away to school in the fall. It's not clear why her parents decided that she should attend the odd little school in Dune for a single term. Her father is not even here: he's in Lucerne to rehearse his new play, leaving Julia with a collection of violent, terrifying plays to read--like Dr. Faustus and The Duchess of Malfi. Trudl, involved in her own tragedy (Gerald married her simply to rescue her from Austria; her love for him is unrequited), inexplicably assigns Julia a gloomy, distant bedroom and is abstracted and anxious at the rare times when she returns from her enigmatic errands. There's a fair amount of interesting material here, but it isn't blended into a coherent whole. Julia's frightening possession is never explained; the Harken mystery is left half unravelled; and Trudl, whose real troubles are more urgent than Julia's gothic horrors, remains a minor character, her future beyond Julia's ken. This gifted, prolific author does evoke a spooky setting and convey the unease before the war; but the novel falls far short of her best work.
Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 0385299753
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1989




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