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Dream Children [Hardcover]

A Wilson
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 28 1998
Provocative fiction about a forbidden love: a Lolita for our times. Oliver Gold, the brilliant, ascetic writer and philosopher, has lived quietly and happily for eight years on the outskirts of London as a lodger in 12, Wagner Rise. His sudden decision to marry and move to America precipitates a crisis in this household of women, all of whom owe fierce, idiosyncratic allegiance to Oliver, and want to save him and their world from an unsuitable, inexplicable match. The cold and beautiful Catharine Cuffe, Oliver's former student and a formidable philosopher herself, offers him a platonic marriage of convenience; Michal, Cuffe's lover, is a bitter, divorced mother who would do almost anything to keep Oliver in the house, as would her mother, Margot, a faded literary hostess who is only a few years Oliver's senior; Britte, the Austrian Amazon housekeeper, harbors a yearning for Oliver that verges on madness; but only Bobs, Michal's twelve-year-old daughter who has been Oliver's constant companion, knows his dangerous secret: it is from her that Oliver attempts to flee. In a series of dramatic tableaux, unfolding over the course of many years, A. N. Wilson threads the dark labyrinths of Wagner Rise and illuminates the tragic consequences of these attachments.

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Life has not always been harmonious at 12, Wagner Rise. But for the past seven years, philosopher extraordinaire Oliver Gold has caused an entire extended family to stop quarreling among themselves and turned their huge North London home into a cozy, if odd, ménage. How has this seemingly asexual individual accomplished this feat? By using the best tactic on tap--making them all fall in love with him, from the aging matriarch to a pair of lesbian lovers to a 10-year-old girl named Bobs. Alas, things go entirely out of whack when Oliver reveals--or has young Bobs announce--his engagement, and to a rather mousy American named Camilla of all people!

Dream Children would seem on a par with Iris Murdoch's searching and satirical dissections of the socially and intellectually gifted. But A.N. Wilson opens his novel with a more contemporary (and more American) spectacle: a recovered-memory trial in which a middle-aged woman claims she was raped at 6. "It was one of those cases which divided the nation. Those of the conservative disposition felt that the plaintiff was hysterical, probably deluded, certainly, which amounted to something pretty similar, female." And pedophilia, it turns out, is at the heart of Wilson's 17th fiction. Oliver Gold's purity of thought and word are in no way matched by his deeds and desires.

Owing to his own early encounters, our antihero has decided he can only be happy with a child, "a little dream lover." And until Bobs he has lived inside his head, with a little help from Lewis Carroll et al. But 12, Wagner Rise turns out to be the ideal love nest: "What began to unfold was the most delicious danger, the most heart-rending miracle. Now, looking back, he did not choose to put dates on the affair or ask himself when it had all begun. It was the central fact of his life, the knowledge that he and Bobs were made for each other." Oliver may be able to rationalize himself through--and others into--almost anything, but his fellow homesteaders are equally (though not so antisocially) self-deluded. The author has the right, light touch with his emotionally injured and injuring man of intellect, and the ironies reverberate throughout his disturbingly delightful book (one reason Dream Children is unlikely to be an Oprah pick). Oliver's fiancée, for instance, tells her visiting, and appalled, mother, "If that man didn't want a kid of his own, I don't know who does!" Some readers may consider A.N. Wilson's approach far too clever, and cold, for his hot-button subject, but he doesn't need to hammer his moral point home. His intricate narrative and chilling conclusion do so with artistic aplomb. --Kerry Fried

From Publishers Weekly

The highly intelligent and often very funny author of a series of brainy British comic novels, including Gentlemen in England and The Vicar of Sorrows, has turned his hand to something extremely tricky here. He has imagined, quite sympathetically, a love affair (which indeed has its carnal aspects) between a brilliant middle-aged scholar, Oliver Gold, and 10-year-old Bobs, precocious daughter of the house of women where Oliver lodges in northern London. It is not only the theme that makes the reader a little anxious: Wilson's portraits of Bobs's mother, Michal, her lesbian lover Cuffe, Bobs's grandmother, Margot, and the hysteric Austrian housekeeper Lotte?all of whom have yearnings of one kind or another for Gold?are smartly satirical, whereas Gold's passion for Bobs is treated as the stuff of melodrama. Perhaps Wilson realized he couldn't joke about such things, but this odd imbalance sets the book awry. It has many funny scenes, some trenchantly observed moments and a wonderfully mordant ending, but it lacks the brilliant consistency of vision of Lolita, with which it is likely to be compared (and already has been, by its publisher).
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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It was Bobs who broke the news to the three of them, to her mother, her grandmother, and to Catharine Cuffe: to the quorum, one might say. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars
3.1 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A STORY THAT PUTS US IN A HORRIFYING PLACE... Jan. 16 2002
...into the mind and life of a pedophile. Told from the point of view of Oliver Gold, a seemingly mild-mannered, brilliant writer and philosopher, A. N. Wilson's book does just that -- and it is truly a scary place to visit.
Gold lives in a house of women -- all of whom consider themselves to be free-thinkers. It is the consequence of this self-image that they allow themselves to be taken in emotionally by their male lodger, to the extent that they are unable -- or unwilling -- to see the ongoing relationship he shares with Bobs, a precocious pre-teen girl, the daughter of one of the women in the house. A dark, well-written story with disturbing moral implications, Wilson's novel is one that will -- hopefully -- make most readers uncomfortable to the point that they will do some serious thinking and investigating on their own into the subject of child abuse in our society.
I don't think for a moment that Wilson has made his protagonist seem gentle and harmless, intelligent and ingratiating, in order to make him seem less evil, or to propose in any way whatsoever that this sort of behavior is acceptable -- he's done it in order for us to realize how insidiously a perpetrator such as Gold can 'hide in plain sight'. There are truly monsters such as this who live among us, preying on children. As disturbing as this novel is, maybe it will cause all of us to open our eyes a little wider, to be more watchful and vigilant in protecting those who look to us for care and love.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Well written disturbing book with open questions Jan. 31 2000
By msb
Ok. Five stars for the story - not for the main object. And (I've got the hard-cover) no stars for the bookbinding - it was the very first book I was supposed to cut the pages even. Oliver, the philosopher with the high-flying mind and the unability for normal social bindings sees himself kindly entrapped in a strange set of adoring women, each eager to use him for her own purpose - to earn social reputation, get some pieces of high-spirited knowledge, get a crumb of love. He is same time comfortable and dissatisfied, until he discovers his love for the child of one of the women, and, because the mother has other things in mind, is then the willing father-substitute. This gives the circle of women more to adore him - and him the chance to live the only love he is really able to - the love to a child. *What* he is doing to and with the child is not the matter of the book (seems to be nothing physical harming), but it was disturbing (for me as a reader) to see that he is not even able to question his view about this relation - and, as so often, for him everything seems to support his view. This narrowed view is uncomfortably human. On the last pages his ex-beloved girl, now adult, seems to be an healthy, unharmed woman, but also this view is questionable, because she seems to be unable to form a 'normal' relationship to another adult, in this story because she knows that no love can be as deep as this she have had in childhood. If you're interested in adult-child-relations far from what is considered 'normal' you may read this book, but don't think it will support pedophilia - the question of harm is not as open as it may seem (here).
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By A Customer
"Dream Children is brilliantly and mesmerically readable. Wilson has an unfakeable flair for storytelling - I read it virtually in one sitting, missing my stop on the Underground as I did so. I defy any reader, however they feel about the theme or the author's treatment of it, not to be utterly engaged by this book." ... -- The London Evening Standard
"Dream Children, although a work of fiction, attempts to introduce a note of rationality into the debate. To that extent, it is both welcome and timely. [...] The scenario is enough to disturb any reader. It is a measure of Wilson's sureness of touch that he avoids prurience, avoids sensationalism, and makes us look at the situation with the same objectivity as he does. Oliver, palpably, is not a monster. Bobs, palpably, is not left traumatised by the relationship. [...] a brave and dispassionate treatment of a sensitive theme." -- The Daily Telegraph.
"... a novel which struck me as among the cleverest and funniest of the decade." -- Auberon Waugh, in The Sunday Times.
"... a bitter and moral comedy, that makes Lolita look the self-indulgent melodrama it really is." -- The Scotsman.
"Whatever the rights and wrongs, this remains an astonishing novel - lucid, vigorous, uncompromising, and unflaggingly intelligent. It will make Wilson a household name - in many places a detested one. Perhaps this book will be seen by future generations as following in the footsteps of other fictional precursors of social and legal reform, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin and many works by Charles Dickens. What seems certain is that anyone who thinks about social issues or wonders about the nature of modern life against the wider backdrop of history, will not rest content until they have read it." -- The South China Morning Post
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1.0 out of 5 stars Relevant Information Aug. 4 2002
By A Customer
I was about to read this novel, when I noticed a piece in the New York Times Week in Review reporting that the author, A.N. Wilson, had "'reluctantly' concluded that Israel no longer had a right to exist." The article discusses Wilson's support of a fellow writer who had referred to Israeli soldiers as "the Zionist SS" and who described American Jews who have settled on the West Bank as Nazis who should be shot. "'Many in this country and throughout the world would echo [these] views on the tragic events in the Middle East,'" the Times quoted Wilson as saying. I felt that A.N. Wilson's political opinions were important information for readers to be aware of. I am glad Mr. Wilson was so open about his views; I immediately discarded his book unread on learning of them.
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