Page 45 Review by Stephen
"The clock belongs to old Mrs. Bartholomew upstairs. She's rather particular about it...
"It keeps good time but seldom chooses to strike the right hour."
I need to find a word other than 'magical', don't I? Lord, but I've taken that one out to play often enough when it comes to comics, particularly all-ages comics like this. I know, let's try 'transporting'.
It's the beginning of the summer holidays. Tom's younger brother Peter has measles so, lest he catch it too, frown-faced Tom is hastily dispatched to Uncle Alan and Auntie Gwen who live in a town near Ely where he'll be kept under quarantine. Uncle Alan collects him by car.
"I hope we'll get on reasonably well."
A once grand house, it has since been divided into flats, at the top of which lives the landlady, old Mrs. Bartholomew. Her grandfather clock stands screwed to the wall in the shared hallway, which is dingy even during the day. His Uncle isn't unkind but he's rather remote and slightly austere, and while his Aunt is jolly and a generous cook, you suspect that they've never had children. It doesn't help Tom's sense of being trapped that there are bars on his windows and he's not allowed out or to answer the door for the fortnight it takes to ensure he's not contagious.
Both writer and artist capture the crippling awkwardness and monotonous boredom of staying alone anywhere but home when you're young, outside your comfort zone, without friends or familiar books and toys: the sense of being very much a visitor. Time passes excruciatingly slowly as Tom writhes on a chair or lies flat on his back on his bed. So, in order to at least feel some sort of contact, Tom begins writing to Peter.
Then, during a typically sleepless night, Tom hears the grandfather clock's sonorous chiming not ten o'clock, not eleven o'clock, not twelve o'clock but...
"Peter, I had to know what time the clock fingers would be showing when it struck thirteen..."
Tom descends the staircase gingerly in darkness, but the scant moonbeams shining from the narrow window above the back door aren't bright enough to read the clock face, so he opens the door to let more light in.
Instead of the cluttered back yard he was promised lay outside, Tom is confronted by a vast, sprawling green garden of some country mansion, in full summer flower and in daylight!
I did promise you 'transporting'.
The contrast is startling.
The drabness of Tom's confines had been accentuated with but three muted and similar, slightly sickly shades shared by the walls, the bed linen and Auntie Gwen's frock. Then there was the perpetually dark and gloomy hallway. Now Edith opens everything up - like an orchestra letting rip after mournful, wistful solos - with a full-page blast of fresh, vivid green, bright, sunshine yellows, livid purple and scarlet blooms. In addition, behind the initial, informal garden, there is the promise of more to explore with a meadow and second tree line in the distance behind the hedge.
As Tom begins to beam in his smart, white, best-visiting jim-jams, you can feel the cool, soft grass beneath his tiny feet.
There's an exquisitely written scene over breakfast the next morning in which Tom tries to rationalise his experience as his Aunt and Uncle having lied about what lies outside. He angles his arguments in such a way as to coax a confession out of one or the other, but they are oblivious. Undeterred, he tries again his Aunt on his own. It's delightful. Then suddenly it occurs to him to see for himself, to open the back door in broad daylight.
As promised, it's just a back yard, and a small one at that.
We've barely begun but I'm not sure how much further to take you. Tom will continue to make further forays into this enticing realm and you will notice that those he later spies living there - three brothers and their young cousin Harriet - are dressed as late Victorians while Tom, of course, comes from the late 1950s.
On his second visit Tom discovers that time passes differently in his midnight garden than it does at his Auntie and Uncle's, but a little later he becomes puzzled that a tree struck by lightning in a storm should be in perfectly fine fettle on a subsequent sortie.
I will say that a brief episode involving Tom perched in a wheelbarrow, which you'll pass over as nothing the first time round, becomes exceedingly funny on your second read through. It's one of those books which rewards multiple readings to see if it works once you've realised what's happening.
There's so much to admire in Edith's line and colour art. The contrasts we've covered, although her backlit scenes throughout are some of the most effective I've seen, with shadows falling over those approaching to telling effect on subsequent inspection. I also adore Tom's wide white eyes, big head and body language which are perfect for an age when we haven't yet achieved full strength or agility. Auntie Gwen, meanwhile, is so plump and homely that she could almost have been pencilled - though not coloured - by Raymond Briggs, and Uncle Alan's glasses through which no colour passes are perfect for the period.
Where Edith excels above all is on the other side of the midnight door, capturing the not just the scale but the variety of any such rambling estate. There's the walled vegetable garden with its green door, an ornamental pond, formal walkways round mowed lawns and under organic tunnels of foliage, informal thoroughfares through more remote woodland under vast canopies of trees, shrubbery, flower beds, fences and gates, and a large greenhouse.
The dappled light under the apple orchard's trees in painted to perfection, their squat, twisting, knotted trunks a sure sign of their maturity.
Now, there is obviously a substantial element of time travelling involved, but it's far from linear or predictable. Plus there's something far more complex, personal and intimate at work as you shall see.
For, at its heart, this is the story of two lonely souls craving company, reaching out and finding it.