Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Daydreamer, by Ian McEwan

After reading such dark books by Ian McEwan as Atonement and Amsterdam, I was rather wary of reading this one After all, Atonement is about the tragic consequences faced by a young couple, caused by one child's flighty imagination and need for attention. So a book by McEwan advertised as celebrating imagination and childhood seemed strange initially, but turned out to be entertaining enough, if not the brilliant tour de force the book cover claims it is.

The Daydreamer comprises seven stories built around a ten year old boy called Peter and some of the "things that happen to him in his head". Some stories are just fun, some have subtle messages.
The Bully, for instance, has Peter facing upto a bully, only to realize he has become one himself. The Baby has him swap bodies with his infant cousin, allowing him an insight into a life he has begun to faintly resent.The last, The Grown-up, starts with Peter dreading becoming like the boring grown ups around him ("..and never playing, never really having fun" ), until he glimpses the possibilities being an adult offers - freedom,a career he already dreams about,love. In the end, the dread is replaced with an anticipation of the adventures in store for him.

"As far-fetched as anything by Roald Dahl" screams the book cover, but I beg to differ.This book has none of the complexities, plot twists or delight in gruesomeness you associate with Dahl, (except fleetingly in
The Dolls, where Peter is attacked by, well, dolls) Nor is it a disappointment.The language is simple, you can believe the thoughts being described are those of a ten year old., and a very interesting and likeable one at that . The author has played fairly safe with plotlines, with most stories winding up as mid day reveries or dreams, and almost always with happy endings.Only 'The Burglar' has an interesting little twist in the end. Infact, I found the stories closer in spirit to safe and solid Enid Blyton, though thankfully with only one mention of talking toys. But McEwan does point out in the beginning of the book that these were initially written as bedtime stories for his kids, before he considered their possibilities for an older audience. He says,
"What we like about children's books is our children's pleasure in them, and this is less to do with literature and more to do with love."

So in keeping with this pleasure and this love, these stories stay accessible to both adults and children.

Since we're on the subject of kids with lively imaginations,have you read these terrific stories?

The Wish, by Roald Dahl, about a boy playing on a red and black carpet. This is one of my favourite Dahl stories - it's only about three pages long yet the tension mounts, the line between reality and game rapidly blurs and, by the end, you share the boy's terror.
The Lumber Room by H. H. Munro (Saki), about a boy who turns the tables on a censorious aunt. Saki wrote some wonderfully wicked little kids, and Nicholas here is one of them.
Under Cover of Apologies, by Geoffrey Household, about a resourceful young American teenager engaged as a secret agent by the British government.
Bridge to Terabithia, a novel by Katherine Paterson, which is a great book, and led to a wonderful film too (ah, the powers of computer aided animation) is about two children, who imagine this entire world in which they battle, or come to terms with, the troubles they face in the real world. By the way, this book has been on the list of books banned from American libraries at one time or another.
The Open Window, again by Saki, about a young girl who drives away an annoying guest with a wonderful ghost story.
6. Every frame ever drawn, of
Calvin and Hobbes
7. Swami, from Swami and Friends, by R. K. Narayan

I'm also tempted to add
The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, though it does descend into grimness, and the child's story is finally deciphered to reveal something truly horrific.

Have you read these, or other stories about kids and their imaginary worlds? Do tell.


  1. Managed to see a part of Atonement, the movie, before Nino managed to pull me away from the tv - and for the parts that I saw, the movie looks very good - its captured this 'flights of fancy' part literally, the visualisation is superb.

  2. Hi just stumbled on your blog via book blogs. I had not realised McEwan had published a book for children, I admire his novels all of which seem quite dark. I work in a children's library but had not heard of this book. I will definately be seeking it out, thanks. Agree about Calvin and Hobbes and Roald Dahl, but think BFG is my personal favourite. At the moment my favourite book for older readers is probably The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. I have put up some blogs on interesting kids books, if you want to stop by and chat.

  3. @Nino's Mom: Caught the movie on HBO myself, it was very good.Was lucky that way, it was screened exactly in the time slot when the Imp is away at school.

    @Bookpusher: Haven't read BFG... now it's added to my must read list.