Ian McEwan, born 1948, has always had a knack of writing emphatically about children. He does so in several of his books, not least The Cement Garden (1980) where, through the 14 year old narrator, Jack, he gives a convincing and detailed view of the world of childhood left to fend for itself. So it is good to find that he has managed, amongst his tribe of adult books, to write some novels for children as well.
This novel, The Daydreamer, first published in 1984, starts nicely from a third person's perspective and has a straightforward style. It deals directly with the workings of a young boy's mind, and the differentiating between that and the mind-set of adults. It's also comparable with Matilda by Roald Dahl (Dahl, 2001), published in 1988. A reviewer in the Publishers Weekly said that McEwan's prose in The Daydreamer "reveals a profound understanding of childhood" (Publisher Weekly, 1994).
McEwan, in his book The Daydreamer, writes about a ten year old boy who, by the end of the story has grown into a twelve year old adolescent. The story is progressive, and has a thought-provoking end which could easily have had a sequel. The Daydreamer is a progression of short stories and each one could have been self contained. McEwan's writing is realistic, even though Peter's daydreams are extremely imaginative.
McEwan is quick to exploit the differences between the boy, Peter, and the adult world. It suddenly becomes a dangerous time for Peter, attributable to the misunderstanding of grownups that label him a "problem child". The misunderstanding takes place because there is more going on in Peter's head than in the world outside. A useful idea that McEwan takes full advantage of in some of his adult novels too. Mixing interiority with exteriority enriches what otherwise would have been very placid scenes.
One thing noticeable in the book is McEwan's usage of upbeat names and positive sentences. When negativity does encroach it is dealt with in a constructive manner - like the house burglar, Soapy Sam, or the bully, Barry Tamerlane, whose name derives `from the Persian, Timur-i lang', the last great nomadic leader, a conquer, empire builder and, the first to exploit settled populations. Tamerlane is examined by Peter in a positive light, revealing a streak of underlying humour in McEwan's writing style. The Daydreamer shows great use of imagination, voice, and an understanding of the emotional and underlying processes of growing up - the view from a child's perspective; the skill of enhancing the outer world by use of the inner; the changing world of children's literature along with the importance of positive messages within the storyline, and the unsighted views of realism and fantasy. in particular the usage of words, language, imagery and illustrations, and how he incorporated these into his work is second to none.