Warning: Contains Spoilers!
His glass eyes seemed to blaze with a light all their own when his gaze fell upon her.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Poor Neil – gets hurled fifty-odd years back in time and still can’t escape having his ears chewed by crotchety old ladies! I have to hand it to Ursula Webster though, she may have been cruel, but at least it seemed to be due to her great age and inexperience with young people, as opposed to the hard-boiled malice of the dreadful Ma Stokes.
What’s great about Robin’s characterisation of these kind of unpleasant figures, though, is that you can almost always see how they came to be so horrible. In some cases, like with Mrs Banbury-Scott in The Whitby Witches, this inspires a degree of empathy or pity. In others, for example the nefarious Dr Spittle, this serves to create a portrait of a warped individual whom we understand to some extent, but whom we will nonetheless come to loathe in due course. Unless she has some epiphany further down the line, Ma Stokes is absolutely the latter, and I for one am not looking forward to spending the next five days with her any more than Neil and Ted.
Mrs Stokes is the absolute archetype of this. She may have been soft of heart at one stage, but it is so buried beneath a brutal exterior that who would know? (I’m probably going to be proven wrong in two chapters and find out she has a secret heart of gold and is just ‘bunging on’ the crank act – as we would say in the colonies. But for now, she’s hardly Mother of the Year, right?)
However, for me, the perfect moment in this chapter – which is my favourite moment in the book so far, and just might be one of the Great Jarvis Moments for me – is the scene where Ted is peeking through the banisters at Jean. At this point, we know no backstory, we don’t know how he met her, but he’s somehow spent fifty years (and a lot of that in a glass case, by the sounds of it) thinking about this woman. Only to be a teddy bear when he meets her again.
It’s a big grown-up emotion, but Robin rightly assumes that his readers will go along on the emotional journey. It’s certainly given me all the feels.