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).
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