I'm a big fan of Diana Wynne Jones, and have read nearly all her books--I think I like this one nearly the best; I say "nearly" because of the ending. The story has so many strengths, particularly the overall vision and voice, the brilliant, incisive characters, and the various relationships-- Polly's on-again, off-again relationship with Nina, her painful relationship with her horrible parents, her loving relationship wtih her grandmother, and the deepening, complex relationship with Tom. As so many readers have pointed out, however, this ending is confusing, and even though I hugely admire Jones' creativity, quirkiness and willingness to leave in mystery, I ultimately have to say that the ending detracts rather than adds. I've read it three times now, and here's my two cents:
1. Polly and Tom are true lovers, and at the end, Polly has won Tom, and saved him. In other words, it's a happy ending. And one reader is absolutely right to say that unlike the myth, Polly must let go of Tom in order to save him.
2. The way she saves Tom is very confusing. I don't understand why Jones rushes through it; she really ought to have slowed down, and added about ten pages (my daughter says twenty, woven throughout the book.) But what she's saying is, since their love is impossible "nowhere," then THEREFORE, it's possible somewhere (think of it as a logic puzzle): p. 420: "If two people can't get together anywhere..." they can therefore get together "nowhere" (Remember that "nowhere" is both a fairy place, and also, as it says in the book, both a dead end AND that very alive blank space that comes BEFORE CREATION: "Two sides to Nowhere, Polly thought. One really was a dead end. The other was the void that lay before you when you were making up something new out of ideas no one else had quite had before." (p. 405) So in this sense, "nowhere" is that space/time just before the creation of their love.
3. The main confusing thing, I think, is that the rules of the fairy/witch people seem to be elaborate, but are not set down--Polly seems to know it, just like that --she mysteriously knows exactly what to do in order to use magic to find Tom on that fateful day (HOW does she know?) & then she mysteriously seems to know all the rules the fairy people abide by, in the end. It's like Jones herself knows it all, and somehow imagines we readers do too. It's really irritating, like going to a party in which there is an in-joke that everyone else is laughing at, and you have no idea what it's about, but everyone else assumes you should. Laurel seems to be bound by all sorts of 'rules,' but we don't really know them. Polly somehow knows them, and what follows in the end is like a court of law, in which suddenly Polly has become a lawyer, though we readers have no idea what the rules are: She says on p. 408, "I claim that Morton Leroy has forfeited his right to Tom's life. And he'll have to find someone else or go himself." And she proceeds to argue that since Mr. Leroy tried to kill them, he has messed up since Tom's life is 'sacrosanct' - "Morton, my dear," Laurel says, "I think you may have been rather foolish." p. 410, and then Laurel essentially sends Morton and Tom on a trial for their lives. THe loser dies in order to give Laurel her next life. The trick is that anything Tom does, anything, will be matched by Morton--and this is why Polly must lose him in order to have him.
It's good, but simply sudden and arbitrary. The book would really have benefited by making these things clearer, by slowing down, and letting the reader feel the shift from realistic to metaphysical, in the end, rather than the very abrupt shift that there is now. It could easily, easily have been edited in, and I really don't understand why Jones didn't.
I have tons of other questions, too: For instance, why does Polly suddenly remember now? How? (From a book, she says-but surely she's read other books before this)
But I've still given the book five stars. I just think it's such a creative book, and even though the ending is too abrupt, its vision and sense is so strong and quirky that it remains one of my favorite Jones books.