Ian McEwan,
The Daydreamer
(Red Fox, 2005)

This is a light-hearted set of linked stories about a boy, Peter, between the ages of 10 and 12, who is a chronic daydreamer. Sometimes, this results in big problems, and sometimes it results in ... knowledge and understanding.

First, we meet Peter, his mother, his father, his sister Kate and the cat, William. Peter tries to be grownup and do things the right way, but then he drifts off and his imagination takes over. One of the early daydreams involves a nightmarish sequence that approaches that series of horror films with the demon-doll, Chuckie, where one of Kate's least-favorite dolls leads an ambush of Peter.

The next one is the best daydream, in my opinion. Peter and his beloved, aging cat, William, share an interesting experience (at least in Peter's mind), with a beautifully bittersweet result. While sad, the adventure also holds a streak of nobility and mercy.

Peter then uses his daydreaming to understand, and seek a truce with, a bully; tries to figure out his infant nephew; devises a clever plan to catch a local burglar (well, maybe); and finally takes a first, tentative step toward understanding love and the social interactions of grownups.

At first glance, I wondered if this were a children's book, and it could be used that way. I can imagine parents, or grandparents or aunts or uncles, reading this book along with children, ages 4 through 10, but I think it is mainly to help remind adults of the power of imagination, including the potential for growth and for damage. I heard a saying once: "Don't be afraid to build castles in the air, as long you're also willing to put good foundations under them." I think that is what this book is about, or what it said to me, at least: Never fear to dream, but make sure you also keep track of reality. Without toil, we accomplish nothing; without dreams, we only toil meaninglessly.

This book is only 135 pages, and the margins are not small, nor is the font. I did not do a word count, but it is likely a novella, not a novel. It reads more like a fictional memoir than a single tale.

This is probably ideal reading for sitting on the beach, or for sitting on a plane while trying to get to a beach. It would also make a nice gift.

review by
Chris McCallister

6 December 2008

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