BOOK REVIEW / Vanishing cream: 'The Daydreamer' - Ian McEwan: Cape, 8.99 pounds

IN THE dystopic, not-too-distant future that is the setting for Ian McEwan's 1987 novel, The Child in Time, a 49-year-old Tory junior minister regresses to short-trousered, catapult-brandishing boyhood, withdrawing from the world of telegrams and anger to a makeshift treehouse. His middle-aged infantilism is meant to represent what can happen when the virtues of immaturity are prevented by authoritarian codes of child- rearing from being carried over into adulthood.

Sending its pre-pubescent hero off on a fantasy-projection of what life will be like for him when he's 21, the last chapter of The Daydreamer, McEwan's first work of children's fiction, reads like a reassuringly idealised version of how such a transition might be made. On a seaside holiday with his own and a group of other families, young Peter Fortune is suddenly struck by 'something very obvious and terrible': that one day he'll have to leave his playmates and join the circle of grown-ups and their 'endless sitting'.

The book is full of imaginatively rendered metamorphoses (in his daydreams Peter cures the family cat of its jealousy of a visiting baby by swapping bodies with it, and so on). But the culminating transformation which worries him is the one that will happen by stealth and eventually render 'his brilliant, playful eleven-year-old self' as incomprehensible to him as grown-ups are now. The fantasy-projection into adulthood 'solves' this problem by bringing into comic co- existence aspects of Peter that are at different stages of development: the 'cold, falling sensation'; the magical kiss in the forbidden tunnel; and then 'lemonade by the bucket' on the way to viewing Peter's new anti-gravity invention. You never stop having adventures: that is the book's upbeat message.

It would have more force, though, if you didn't feel that McEwan, who was no slouch at piling on the dark and the deviant in his early stories for adults, is here too strenuously engaged in keeping the sweetness-and-light levels high. Fantasists like, say, Billy Liar are usually trying to escape a restrictive or depressed reality. But in The Daydreamer - often to the detriment of drama and moral - McEwan keeps drawing attention to the fundamental niceness of Peter's circumstances. After all, a child can have better reasons for wanting to make his family disappear than that they are untidy. In the chapter where Peter applies vanishing cream to his nearest and dearest, McEwan even has him enumerate their loveable qualities ('She was the only mother he knew who could stand on her head unsupported') seconds before wiping them out. But why not give him a genuine grievance that temporarily obscures his love for them?

There's the sense throughout of a well-meaning adult breathing down the reader's neck and offering, at times, false consolation. In one story, Peter's imagination is drawn to the question of how we can know that we are not dreaming everything. Putting philosophy speedily to practical use, he then manages to rout the school bully by telling him that he doesn't exist. In other words, the power of bullies is just the collective fantasy of the oppressed. Mmm. It's typical of the book's refusal to depart from niceness for long that Peter immediately recognises that he too has been a bully, in making public certain soppy secrets about his adversary. The cloying note he sends in atonement - 'Do you want to play soccer? PS. I've got a teddy and I have to help with the dishes' - suggests the book's fancifulness isn't confined to its daydream episodes.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions