Dream Children Hardcover – Aug 1 1998
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
"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
Most recent customer reviews
This is an awful book. I am an avid reader and I often read controversial books but this one is as close to pornography form the far side of the spectrum. Read morePublished on June 18 2011 by Big Bend
I am not sure what is wrong with the other people who read this book who seem to think it is exceptionally good writing. Read morePublished on Oct. 29 2003 by Judith Poch Armata