Literature: The Time of the Ghost

The Time of the Ghost is a 1981 novel by Diana Wynne Jones. It is about a ghost who observes four sisters, knowing she's one of them, but can't remember which one.

The four Melford sisters - Charlotte (Cart), Selina (Sally), Imogen and Fenella - live in a house attached to the boarding school their parents run. Their parents pay very little attention to them, to the point of neglect, and the girls behave in wild and occasionally outright dangerous ways.

The girls worship a doll called Monigan as a game, but it turns out that Monigan is real, and seven years from that time will take the life of one of the sisters. Can they stop her in time?

Tropes featured include:

  • Abusive Parents - Mostly through neglect, which is still pretty bad:
    • Not having any food in the house is treated as a regular occurrence. When the girls take food from the boarding school's kitchen, the cook - and their mother - scolds them, though they don't have anything else to eat.
    • Through a large part of the book, neither parent realizes one of their daughters is absent.
    • Fenella ties her hair into knots to see how long it would take her parents to notice. They never do.
  • Adults Are Useless - The parents are neglectful at best and Mrs. Gill, the boarding school's cook, isn't helpful at all.
  • An Astral Projection, Not a Ghost - The ghost turns out to be one of these.
  • Balancing Death's Books - Subverted with Cart offering Oliver's soul for Sally's and being rejected. Played straight at the end, when Sally lives but it turns out Julian died. Hardly a big loss, though.
  • Beware the Nice Ones - Sally, the most normal looking sister, is also the one who sacrificed a chicken to Monigan.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing - Julian grew up to be the male version, who ended up being an abusive boyfriend who threw his girlfriend out of a moving car because she wouldn't move to South Africa with him.
  • Boarding School - The Melford parents run one.
  • Creepy Doll
  • God of Evil - Monigan.
  • I See Dead People - Played with; Mrs. Gill can see the ghost, but thinks it's a trick and ignores it.
  • Quest for Identity