In the preface, McEwan wonders how often adults actually read the classic children's fiction that they may gush over - are they praising the books themselves or waxing nostalgic about the idea of their former selves engrossed in such books? With this in mind, he has written The Daydreamer, a book designed to be enjoyed by both adults and older children. He succeeds magnificently. The daydreamer is Peter Fortune, an imaginative 10 year old boy who grows up to be an inventor, whose daydreams are so vivid that he lives them. In the seven stories in this book, he gets attacked by the dolls in his sister's room that he has always found a bit sinister, he makes his family disappear using vanishing cream, disarms the school bully with some well-chosen words, attempts to catch a burglar, changes body with the old family cat and his baby cousin, and one morning on a summer holiday, wakes to find that he has become a young adult and experiences love for the first time. Peter learns and gains empathy from each of these experiences - before becoming a baby, he despised his cousin; shortly before becoming a young adult, he was feeling sad knowing that his exciting childhood would end, all adults seemed to do on holidays was go for walks, read the newspaper and talk. These stories are entertaining, quirky, and can indeed be enjoyed by children and adults. I've just lent my copy to a non-native English speaker and plan to buy a copy for my niece's 9th birthday.
Amusing for me as it reminded me a lot of my own daydreamy child, but also for anyone who's ever been a child, it's a good evocation of the fertile imaginative play of ten year olds. Most of the stories involve metamorphoses of some kind (hence the quote from Ovid at the start), and learning to see things from another point of view (a baby, a cat, the school bully). And the peek into the adult world at the end is bittersweet.
This could be a collection of short stories but each story is called a chapter and tells about Peter. In the first half of the novel Peter is a ten-year-old schoolboy and in seven 'chapters' or 'stories' we follow him from his childhood to adulthood. The border between stories and novel is blurred away. It's meant to be read by adults and children alike.
Peter is called a daydreamer. I'm not a psychologist but this sounds like an understatement. After the title page Ian McEwan gives a fragment of the Metamorphoses by Ovid: "My purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed into shapes of a different kind." The 'daydream' once it gets in Peter's mind begins to live a life of its own. Real life doesn't matter anymore or better, real life ceases to exist. This can lead to unpleasant surprises. For instance: he sits on the bus to school with his younger seven-year-old sister and his parents insisted that he watched her closely. But he forgets all about her during a daydream. When he wakes up his sister is nowhere to be seen...
There are seven chapters and each chapter consists of a daydream that illustrates his coming of age from a schoolboy to an adult. When I said earlier that 'daydreamer' was an understatement I meant that the imaginary shifts into reality without you being aware of it at the beginning. A daydreamer knows it's a daydream, Peter thinks it's reality. His 'daydreams' are almost delusional. Gradually the 'daydream' becomes reality and the borderline between the two disappears. Peter doesn't want the daydream, the daydream wants Peter.
To give an example: in the second chapter Peter comes home after school. He sits on the sofa and William the old cat jumps on his lap. Peter begins to tickle William. Purring, William turns on his back. He touches Peter's hand and leads it to his chin. When Peter starts tickling the cat under his chin he feels something strange in the fur of the cat. When he examines it, it turns out to be the beginning of a zipper to open not only the fur but also the skin of William. What follows will baffle you. As you're reading this you know it's a fantasy but when does it start? For all we know William the cat doesn't exist or Peter is still in school dreaming during a lesson.
It's obvious that Ian McEwan writes about human imagination. Where are its limits? Are we able to see the borderline between reality and imagination? Does that borderline exists to begin with? "The Daydreamer" is an astonishing praise of human imagination and what it's capable of. Don't make the mistake to think that this book was written for children.
I read this one whilst downloading old music from my childhood days and had a lovely trip back in time, almost drifting off to the rainy English days spent at home reading Roal Dahl on my bed as a child. The storytelling style reminded me a lot of Dahl, and coming from a self confessed childhood Dahl obsessive, that's a pretty major compliment. The stories are short, slightly twisted, and reminded me exactly what it was I so enjoyed about reading back then. This is one book I'll be popping the post to my ten year old godson.
I read this book for a book club, where we had to read anything by Ian McEwan. I'd heard his novels were "heavy" and so far we'd read pretty dreary novels in the book club, but I read that this particular book was "funnier than Rohl Dahl. (Sorry If I misspelled that!). I am also a teacher of children so I thought it would be an interesting book. Well I found this book to be DELIGHTFUL! It's about a boy whose imagination takes him into very interesting situations that are as real to him as breathing. He learns a lot from his imaginations, mostly about empathy. It really showed me how some kids do think, and how they do learn. It had a cute sense of humour and was a quick read. It's the kind of book you would gladly pull out a chapter and reread it just to put yourself in a good mood. As a grandmother I loved the description of the main character being his cousin, a baby. I also liked the description of him being his old cat. The standing up to the bully chapter (which seems compulsory in these sorts of books) was also great, and worth reading to all bullied kids. Highly recommended to adults, not just kids!