Saturday, June 14, 2008

Current Read Warrants Comment

I am reading the strangest book, Kensington Gardens, by Rodrigo Fresán.

I use strange kindly. Why is it strange? It’s a narration by author Peter Hook, famous for his much-beloved children’s series about Jim Yang, the time traveling boy. Peter Hook is also the son of famous parents from a 1960’s rock band called the Beaten aka the Beaten Victorians aka the Victorians. Their acquaintances included the likes of Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens.

Interesting, yes, but not terribly strange you say? Consider that author Peter Hook is fictitious. It gets even more odd. Peter Hook (which is the fictional author’s selected pseudonym, by the way) draws constant parallels between the events of his own life and those of Sir J. M. Barrie. Except he sometimes denies making the parallels. He proceeds to, in a roundabout way, deliver an autobiography as well as a bigraphy of Barrie. However, he doesn’t just present facts. He goes inside Barrie’s head and tells you what he thinks or thought about, specifically, in a particular instance of his life. Peter Hook even assumes the role of Porthos, Barrie’s dog. In other words, the book is a fictionalized account of factual things under the guise of a fictional storyteller. Stranger still, he is relating all of this not to you, the reader, but to Keiko Kai, the child actor who has been cast in the film version of Jim Yang’s adventures. In one of those books, we learn that Jim Yang visits Barrie and they become kindred spirits. Oh my. It’s not limited to Barrie, either. For instance, Peter Hook claims that Bob Dylan threw up on his boyhood toy soldiers. It’s strange (to me at least) to make such peculiar declarations about actual people.

It’s very nearly stream-of-consciousness, flowing in and out of information about Barrie, Jim Yang, the rock star parents, history, fake history…yet coherently and entertainingly. It deftly throws you for the proverbial loop with a shocking development now and then. Even weirder is that it’s translated from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer. I mean that in a harmless way, as in: Isn’t it fascinating that a Spanish author pretends to be an English boy growing up amid the psychedelic 60’s rock scene? Along the way Fresán makes insightful, perceptive commentary about eras past as well as our own, writers and their process and the search for meaning all tied together with a thread of a famous theme of Peter Pan: childhood vs. adulthood and growing up (or not.) It’s a great read. I’m about a third of the way through. I usually only read in transit, so give me some time and I’ll let you know my thoughts when I complete it.

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