The cover design of Ian McEwan’s The Daydreamer (at least, my copy) suggests that the boy in the image is depressed, abused by a step-parent, bullied at school, and he looks out the window, meditating on love, loss, and all the predicaments in his life. But, in truth, The Daydreamer is one of the funniest, warmest books I read this year. Quite a few times, I dropped the book, held my abdomen, and burst into laughter. This book is adorably hilarious. (By now, you might know that I abuse adjectives and superlatives, while writing my bookish-blogs. I suffer from this mysterious condition, which fills my brain with nice adjectives after I finish reading a lovely book. And, the words arm-twist me into employing them, when I write about the book. So, please bear with me while I sing praises about The Daydreamer.)
I have admitted many a time that I am a sucker for children’s literature. I initially thought I am fond of children’s books because I barely read when I was a child, and that now I devour them to make up for what I had lost. But, McEwan made me realise that I relish children’s literature because it brims with… love.
His introduction goes like this:
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. Early on in writing and reading aloud The Daydreamer I began to think it might be better to forget about our mighty tradition of children’s literature and to write a book for adults about a child in a language that children could understand. In the century of Hemingway and Calvino, simple prose need not deter the sophisticated reader. I hoped the subject matter — the imagination itself — was one in which anyone who picks up a book has a stake.
The Daydreamer, written in incredibly simple, beautiful language — a bit like EB White’s works — is about Peter Fortune, who is a daydreamer. His thoughts set him off on many dreamy adventures, and he ends up not living in the present. His parents do not reprimand him. Not all of his teachers think he is stupid just because he is not attentive in class.
Peter is a creative, imaginative 10-year-old boy, who misses to collect his sister from the bus stop, only because he daydreams about rescuing her from a pack of wolves. He forgets to write a Math test because he applies his mind on wondering about the enormity of googol. He is also kind, and loved dearly by his parents and a cute sister called Kate.
McEwan presents seven interlinked stories from Peter’s life. They don’t fail to make me smile, warm my heart. Since, I want to rave about the book in detail, I am going to write about each chapter.
The Dolls: Kate’s collection of dolls is massive. Although she loves all her dolls, she is scared of, what the siblings call ‘The Bad Doll’. After a tiff with Kate, Peter wins a separate room for himself. On a boring afternoon, he visits his old room, which is now Kate’s, and the dolls lead by ‘The Bad Doll’ wage a war against him, demanding him to share his room with them. Put the blame on McEwan if your dolls talk to you tonight. 😉
He sat on the bed and thought back over the old days when he had slept here. He’d been just a kid then. Nine! What would he have known? If only his ten-year-old self could go back and tell that innocent fool what was what. When you got to ten, you began to see the whole picture, how things connected, how things worked…. an overview…
The Cat: My most favourite from the collection. Peter and his senile feline swap their souls. Peter, as a cat-boy, helps his cat William, by confronting their street’s tom-cat. The boy-cat William wears Peter’s uniform, holds Kate’s hand, and goes to school. It’s a lovely, lovely story. The climax is one of the finest for a short story.
Vanishing Cream: Despite his mother’s constant efforts to keep it clean, Peter’s house is always a mess. His father and Kate do not return things to their designated spots. Draws and wardrobes are loaded with things that are of no use to anybody. While rummaging in one such draw, Peter discovers Vanishing Cream, and makes his family disappear. What does he do after that?
The Bully: This philosophical story’s premise is almost every child’s unanswered question — how do I know that this life is not a dream? Because of the question, and the train of thoughts that ensues, Peter reforms a bully in his school. And, this is definitely not preachy.
Of course there was not one single child there who did not still secretly love a battered old stuffed animal and cuddle it at night. But how wonderful to know that the bully had one too.
The Burglar: This has a wodehousian plot. Peter sketches a plan to catch a burglar, and almost jeopardises his life. In the end, he… (I will not spoil. I promise.) 🙂
The Baby: If Peter swaps his soul with a cat in the second story, in this one, he becomes a baby. His is not particularly fond of his baby-cousin Kenneth. And, because of a spell that escapes from Kate’s wand, Peter becomes Kenneth, and the baby becomes Peter. This story is supremely awww-inducing.
The Grown-Up: Will Peter, who is an inspiring daydreamer, love being an adult? As a child, Peter detest adults’ lives. But, to his surprise, he becomes an adult overnight, and discovers the most important purpose that adults often take for granted — to be in love.
And behind all this human movement the ocean bobbed and folded and slid, for nothing could keep still, not people, not water, not time.
The book, which is an ode to childhood, is bittersweet. It makes me nostalgic, and long for things that cannot happen again. McEwan, as though understanding that the readers might experience a sense of melancholia at the end, tries to cheer me up in the last story. He tries to assure that adulthood is not that bad, after all.