Oddly, the reason why I request this read wasn’t that I loved Peter Pan’s story, but exactly the opposite. As a child, while Walt Disney’s films were rare treats, I always disliked Peter Pan’s adaptation. Reading the presentation of « Wendy, darling », I suspected that the author would have chosen to develop a very ambivalent story, mixing fantastic memory from childhood, longing for something long vanished and the horrible reality of a nightmare masquerading as a dream. I wasn’t disappointed, this book was a fantastic read.
« Wendy, darling » is a retelling of the sequel wrote by the author « When Wendy Grew Up – An Afterthought » (a play). I don’t know how much it’s respects the story, but I suspect that only the premises, the postulat, are the same. One the other hand, the flashbacks, which tell the first story, when Wendy was a young girl, appear really accurate.
The way Wendy has spent so much of her life time longing for Neverland (so badly translated in French as « Le pays imaginaire », « The imaginary country ») strongly reminded me of the second book of the series « The magicians » by Lev Grossman, « The Magician King ». The intense suffering of Julia, who knows that a magical world exists, but isn’t believed, and is thought mad by her friends and relatives, is very similar to Wendy’s state of mind. The impact, however, is quite different. The book shows the cruelty of the treatments which were used to be inflicted on the residents of mental institutions. And also the sexism of the period and of the original story.
I loved how Jane, Wendy’s daughter, is a modern child for ther time, educated to be her own self, to pursue her own interests, even if they aren’t feminine enough (readers of the magnificent « Miss Charity » by Marie-Aude Murail, or « Calpurnia Tate » by Jacqueline Kelly, will probably see the similarity). Consequently, and there is the narrative axis I so approve of, Jane isn’t seduced by Peter’s charm, is able to see through his manipulative and cruel self, able to be afraid of his fake perfect land, able to understand the crimes committed by a being that she quickly assessed as not completely human. Neverland is a nightmare, Peter Pan a psychopath, and if the writer cleverly explains how some children, Wendy in this case, could have been charmed and enthralled, the true nature of this alternative world, this fantasy, is never edulcorated. The lost boys are frequently stolen boys, and they lived in a dystopia where a tyran can chose to kill them at any moment.
The story unfolds nicely, the alternative narration, past and present, is very comfortable (and I’m not fan of this technique, so it’s something to say) and the ending is imaginative and clever. Contrarily to me, I suspect that the author loves the original Peter Pan story and honors it in this book of theirs.
I also appreciated that all the characters were well fleshed, and the story given a strong personal atmosphere, Neverland’s parts are very respectful of the original story, as far as I can judge, but the added details give a lot of personality and appeal to the retelling.
A hit for me!
(I thank Netgalley and Titan Books for sending me the ARC in exchange for my honest review)