Map of Blue Book Balloon

26 June 2021

#Review - Wendy, Darling by A C Wise

Design by Julia Lloyd

Wendy, Darling
A C Wise
Titan books, 1 June 2021
Available as: PB, 330pp, e
Source: Advance copy provided by the publisher
ISBN(PB): 9781789096811

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of Wendy, Darling to consider for review.

I have a soft spot for reimaginings of the classics, especially those stories, often childhood stories, that have such a firm place in our mental landscapes they might seem fixed or eternal. It can be revelatory to return to these with an adult eye, not only revisiting their fascinating worlds but asking the question, what was really going on?

Wendy, Darling is firmly in this tradition. As the book opens, Wendy has discovered with horror that Peter is outside her daughter, Jane's, bedroom window and of course is about to carry her away to Neverland. Brutally ignoring Wendy ('You're no fun!'), who of course has waited years and years to meet him again, he does just that. So we see, perhaps, the first layer of nuance here: Wendy's disappointed life, fixated on that short time when she, Michael and John fought pirates, spoke to mermaids and lived with the Lost Boys. 

What happens after an experience like that, and what can it do to one?

Well, plenty as it turns out. In a second layer of disappointment and betrayal, we see that while the two boys internalised Neverland and Peter as imagined, Wendy clung to its reality - and that the England of the First World War did not welcome a young girl who refused to grow up, refused to accept that her childhood tales were just that. Wendy suffered a cruel fate, confined to an asylum and subject to abuse which is described in stark terms. Wendy's life with her husband Ned represents a courageous (and as we later learn, unconventional) attempt to regain some control over her life, even at the cost of compromise and submission to patriarchal power. It's an interesting story in itself, one I'd like to have read much more of, and and builds into a moving account of Wendy's friendship with Mary, an Indigenous young woman from Canada who Wendy meets in the asylum.

At the same time as we learn about Wendy's earlier troubles, Wise is also telling the story of her return to Neverland, and of Jane's first visit there. These are three very different stories, with different pacing. Jane's arrival in Neverland is traumatic, involving memory loss and there is an urgency, a menace, to her experiences that contrasts with Wendy's fond memories. Jane's is an urgent story that feels as though it is going to dark places quickly. In contrast to that, Wendy's return feels a bit slow and melancholy as she revisits the sites of past adventures and finds the enchantment gone. Ultimately pointing to something sinister going on, these parts of the story are very much "Wendy in her own head" until Wise brings the various strands together towards the end of the book. 

The darkness at the heart of Neverland forms a mystery that both Wendy and Jane have, from their separate perspectives, been unpicking and it ultimately requires both to face deep fears. I felt the conclusion to the book really soars at that point, exploring different sorts of courage, both that based on long experience and suffering and that arising from youth and optimism.

I found this an absorbing book overall, one which doesn't hold out illusory hopes that everything will get better: even after they've finished in Neverland, Wendy and Jane will have to return home to face a home dominated by Ned's authoritarian father and to face the choice of whether Wendy can trust her husband with her most dangerous secret, as he trusted her with his. It is though a hopeful book, showing how there can be second chances and how friendship and love, even of unconventional kinds, can make a difference. That, in the end, is what breaks the paradox of Peter Pan - wanting not to group and dismissing Wendy, a real mother, as 'not fun' while insisting that Jane, a girl, act as mother to the Lost Boys - but only in the ways he approves of. Peter comes over, ultimately, as the ultimate demanding male and facing hims down in Neverland may show Wendy (and Jane, with her dreams of being a scientist) how to navigate similar attitudes back at home in London.

For more information about Wendy, Darling see the publisher's website here.


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