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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For those born more tame, 26 Sept. 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Wild Boy (Hardcover)
I have often wondered what is to become of Benjamin. He is nine years old, has toffee-coloured curls and blue wide eyes, if you glance very quickly you would say he was just another handsome child, but if you allow your eye to rest a little longer you will see very soon that there is something wrong. Benjamin is very badly autistic. This is not the autism of Hollywood films: not a child that adds up long series of numbers in his head, or draws detailed pictures from memory, or makes up fine words or stories, Benjamin is like the WILD BOY in Jill Dawson's book, he says very few words, he does not look you in the eye, he is sometimes uncontrollable, and yet heis very much loved. And.I think that Benjamin loves too, although, of course, it is impossible to be sure.
Victor, the autisitc child in the WILD BOY, is found in a village called St Sernin in early nineteenth century France, a country that is just recovering from the Great Terror of the French revolution, and the sense of this provides a powerful background to the narrative. The barbarity of the time vindicates the small acts of violence that come to permeate the story in surprising ways. Victor, it is thought, has been brought up by the wolves. There are stories of his being suckled by them, of his living with them, almost becoming one of them, but then he is spied in a village, captured and then sent to the institute for the deaf in Paris. Here he is a celebrity, Pinel, the great liberating psychiatrist, declares him to be an idiot but a young doctor Itard views the child as an 'extraordinary opportunity that has walked out of the forest and into my life': he is determined that he will teach Victor to talk.
The narrative is told in three voices: the rather starchy but in the end fascinating one of doctor Itard, who is the type of person who tells you all the world as he sees it whether you want him to or not; the sensuous, warm and earthy voice of Madame Guerin, who is a wonderful contrast to the doctor and immediately arouses sympathy; and then, at the end of each part, an omniscient narrator giving chilling flashbacks of the early part of Victor's life. Each voice is utterly convincing. They are undivided on the page except by a single line gap and it is an indication of the quality of the writing that this is quite enough. The voices are so different there is never any confusion.
Gradually Victor is tamed by the care of these two different people. The story is clear, sound, realistic, the miracles are small and believable. The autistic behaviour is very well-observed and the depth of research obvious. There are moments that catch you without warning with their poignancy, and there are revelations that are unexpected and carry you absorbedly along. It describes humanity at its worst and yet it never feels bleak or desperate. At the end of WILD BOY I felt I understood a little more of what it must be like to be like Victor or Benjamin and it is not as hopeless and frustrating as I thought. There are moments of pleasure and understanding, which makes me realise that the future for Benjamin could be, as it was for Victor, just as rewarding as it is for those of us born more tame.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful writer, 10 Feb. 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: Wild Boy (Paperback)
Jill Dawson is simply marvelous. I loved Fred and Edie, and here, she has once again taken an actual occurrence and imagined what really happened. The characters are well-rounded and, even though many readers will already know what actually happened to the real Enfant Suavage, their interest won't flag, as it is the other, partly invented characters we care about as well. Add to this a beautiful use of language, and it's a winner.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning book - buy it now !, 23 Mar. 2006
By 
a reader (West Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Wild Boy (Paperback)
I have read Jills books with interest as she was a local girl made good. I have always enjoyed her unique writing style but this one really blew me away. What struck me was the writing is so beautifully poetic, pure silk. This book touched me on a much deeper level as I am the Mum of a two gorgeous boys age 7 and 9.
The eldest happens to be Autistic, the youngest not without difficuties. Wild boy is sensitive, well researched and heart wrenching. The details regarding the nature of Autism are striking in their accuracy, but unfortunately it brings home how much futher we still have to go in our journey of learning.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a remarkable, absorbing novel - recommended, 20 Nov. 2003
By 
Amanda Craig "Amanda Craig" (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Wild Boy (Hardcover)
This is one of two novels that have given me great pleasure in 2003 - oddly both about autism (the other being Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). Why are we all so fascinated by this mysterious affliction? Haddon's hero has the milder form of Asperger's, which allows a kind of brilliance to shine through (the sort Hollywood likes) but Dawson's Victor is severely handicapped.
Found in the wild woods of post-Revolutionary France, he is brought to Paris to be studied by the (relatively) enlightened Dr. Itard. Rousseau's theories on the noble savage make Victor fashionable, and Itard struggles to impart language and clean behaviour. Unable to understand why the reflections on water are more fascinating to Victor than a society beauty, he fails; it's the other narrator, Madame Guerin, and her daughter, who comes closest to forming a relationship. Earthy, sensible and hard-working, Madame Guerin herself has probably had an autistic boy (though she believes he was a "changeling")of her own, who became a victim of the Terror. How did Victor survive for so long? He was discovered with the scar of a great wound across his neck, and towards the end the author lets us into his past, and a story as cruel as that of Hansel & Gretel.
The thoughts and voice of each protagonist are wonderfully distinct, believeable and engaging. What prevents this novel from being a really major work of literature is that Dawson sticks too faithfully to the real-life story her novel is based on. The historical linking of Victor's autism with the beliefs of post-Revolutionary France are brilliantly done, but for me where it really takes off is in the fairy-tale parallels. That said, it's head and shoulders above most of this year's fiction.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Book I Wish I'd Written, 19 July 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: Wild Boy (Paperback)
I must confess that the only reason I bought this book was that I met Jill Dawson as a literary festival and was curious to match the writing to the person. I'm sooo glad I did. What can I say - this book blew me away.
Dawson's writing is outstanding. The plot of this book is gripping to say the least (albeit Dawson drew from an actual historical occurance), and her characterisation is just wonderful. I can't understand why this author has not yet become a household name - she thoroughly deserves to be a permament fixture in our bestsellers list. This shares joint first place for me in the books I read in 2004. The other was 'Middlesex', so you get the idea of the quality of Dawson's writing.
Buy it, turn off the phone, find your comfiest armchair and prepare not to move until you've finished. A masterpiece.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Man is only what he is made to be', 10 Dec. 2014
By 
sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Wild Boy (Kindle Edition)
A fictionalized re-telling of the 1798 story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron - a feral child of around twelve, captured in the forests and unable to speak. Did the massive scar across his throat come from the atrocities of the 'Terror' or were they inflicted by another? The author offers her own thoughts on that, but the substance of the child's life in Paris is based on fact. He was an object of fascination to the scientists of the day, who paid for him to have a foster mother, and appointed Dr Itard to try to teach and civilize him. Both these adults have their own stories which are woven into the story, while the child, Victor, is convincingly portrayed as autistic.
I really enjoyed it, reading it in one sitting.
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Wild Boy
Wild Boy by Jill Dawson (Paperback - 5 July 2004)
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