- Title: Momo
- Author: Michael Ende
- # of Pages: 227
Momo has a wonderful life. She has no parents and her home is the ruins of an old amphitheatre, but she has wonderful friends of all shapes and sizes who take care of her, play with her and keep her company. There’s Beppo Roadwsweeper, old and wise, who loves her and cares for her like a father, Guido Guide, the storyteller who loves to make up local history for tourists, and the children of the city who love to play with Momo and find that no game is really much fun without her.
One day something weird starts happening to the people in the world. It starts with the old barber, who gets a visit from a very odd, very gray man who tells him he can start saving time in the Timesaving Bank and then, when he’s older, he’ll have enough time saved up to fulfill all of his dreams. The man agrees. In order to save up time he has to start giving up some small things – a daily hour with his old mother, a weekly visit to his lover, his habit of sitting around and contemplating life every evening. He’s not the only one. One by one, people start saving time. As they strive to become more efficient, they drop hobbies, family and friends. Very soon society turns into a sort of machine – there’s no point wasting a second on anything that isn’t neccessary.
Momo and her friends start noticing the change around them. They soon find out it has to do with men in gray plaguing the citizens, convincing them to save time and then evaporating from their memories as soon as they’ve gone. They try telling people the truth, but when the men in gray find out, they find themselves in grave danger. As the world keeps changing, it’s up to Momo to save everyone.
I spend a good fifteen minutes reading reviews online before I set out to write this one. I screened through pages and pages of four and five star reviews, each one praising Ende more than the last, trying to figure out what went wrong for me.
I finished the book with very mixed feelings. The writing is very good – fun and easy-going, which is exactly what a children’s book should be like, in my opinion. Momo’s friend Guido Guide tells some great stories that could’ve definitely been released seperately as short pieces on their own.
The idea behind the story itself is fantastic – our obsession with time, losing sight of the important things in our quest to “achieve” and become successful, trying so hard to reach a certain goal that we forget that life itself is in the journey, and so on.
The downward spiral humanity finds itself going down is also explained excellently. It starts off with one of the best scenes in the book – some simple, quite funny calculations (which in my opinion are aimed more at the adult reading this to their kid than kids themselves who might miss the humor). One day, a man in gray shows up in Mr. Figaro’s barbershop. He explains to Mr. Figaro that he is wasting his life away. Time is a commodity, he says. Mr. Figaro, for example, has been alive for forty two years which amounts to 1,324,512,000 seconds. Each day he spends eight hours a day working, eight hours sleeping, an hour visiting his mother, etc. etc. The man in gray quickly adds up the seconds wasted away every day by Mr. Figaro. Magically, they add up to exactly 1,324,512,000. The man in gray subtracts the two numbers: Mr. Figaro’s time lived so far minus the time he’s spent. The result is a big fat zero. His entire life so far has been completely wasted away. As Ende writes, “He [Mr. Figaro] was so impressed by the elaborate sum, which had come out perfectly, that he was ready to accept whatever advice the stranger had to offer. It was one of the tricks the men in gray used to dupe prospective customers.” Mr. Figaro is only the first. Soon everyone else is caught in the trap.
The only people who seem to not be affected by the men in gray are the children, who are not concerned with wasting time. They are too busy playing games and telling stories. It’s a perfect depiction of our own society – as we grow up, expectations and pressure from society make us forget that once upon a time we had all the time and the world and we could be anything we wanted to be.
With all of this praise, something felt off. My view on fantasy and science fiction is this – it can be as crazy as you want but it has to make sense within itself. Even fictional realities have to have rules of their own – it doesn’t matter what they ar, but they have to be consistent. They can’t have illogical loopholes just because the plot requires it. Otherwise, the reader gets lost. It makes it harder to believe in the story.
I think at some point Michael Ende’s Momo seemed to veer off its own course. The explanations stopped making sense and the solutions seemed ridiculous. For example, Momo befriends a magical tortoise who communicates with her by spelling out words on its shell. As opposed to the men in gray, who make perfect sense in Momo’s world as a well explained concept, the tortoise just doesn’t. There are no other magical animals apart from it, and its existence sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise solid universe. In another instance, Momo gets a glimpse of where time comes from. The scene she describes is complete magic. As opposed to the quite sensible world Momo lives in, which in the introduction is hinted as being somehow and somewhere a part of ours, this scene seems completely out of place.
In the end, I think Ende took on a very important idea in a very well written way, and as I read the book I found myself comtemplating my life and values. It brings up very valid points about our own society, and I think it’s a valuable read for children and adults alike. And yet, despite all of this, as more and more of it started to make less and less sense, Momo’s universe slowly unraveled and somewhere along the way I stopped believing.
Have you read Momo? What did you think? Do logical flaws in fantastical realities even matter? Do you have any examples of this issue in other books you’ve read? Let’s discuss!