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WENDY DARLING ****
Written by A C Wise.
Paperback336 Pages, £8.99, 338 pp

Out now from Titan Books.

 

 

I think it’s safe to say that every child knows the story of Peter Pan. Of the boy who refused to grow up, of Neverland and Tinkerbell, of Captain Hook and his fearsome band of pirates. Indeed, it’s a story that has been retold and reinterpreted so much that perhaps we all know it a little too well, or at least that was my opinion when this book arrived for review. Did we need another reimagining of the story? Hasn’t it been done to death already? How wrong I was, for in WENDY, DARLING, author A C Wise reinterprets the Peter Pan tale as a refreshingly dark and haunting feminist fable.

 

The book follows Wendy’s return to Neverland as she seeks for her daughter, but also uses frequent flashbacks to detail her interment in a mental institution, following her original encounter with Peter. Wise draws distinct parallels between the two, showing how this horrific experience and her survival of it relate directly to her buried trauma. Similarly, the men who have dominated, controlled, and attempted to destroy Wendy are likened in numerous ways to Wise’s more monstrous portrayal of Peter, who sought to craft her into a ‘Mother’ for the Lost Boys.

 

Some of the book's most haunting sequences are when Wendy explores Neverland, the dreamworld, fantasy place of her childhood, as an adult. It is in these sequences that Wise’s craft really shines as she perfectly captures the feeling of something sinister beneath the surface of a supposedly ideal world. One moment, in which Wendy boards a wrecked pirate ship and muses on Captain Hook with the intelligence and wisdom of an adult, is particularly powerful. She questions the events and memories of her childhood, instead painting a portrait of a man more tragic victim than villain. A figure forced to act to the whims of a child and a monster. It’s a powerful, beautiful moment in a book simply bursting with them.

 

Whilst the stand out creation of the book is Wise’s new interpretation of Wendy, her take on Pan is genuinely disturbing. Her prose emphasises him physically as what he is - a child, small and boyish. However, as the narrative goes on she turns him into so much more, showing how he manipulates, bullies and gaslights those around him. Some of the sequences with the lost boys have a distressing intensity as we worry just what this monster will do to those around him. It’s a horrifying new take on the character, using real world horrors to question aspects of Barrie's original creation as well as Victorian attitudes.

 

Some of those with fond memories of the original Peter Pan stories may find WENDY, DARLING to be a step too far. They may not enjoy Wise’s bleak and haunting take on a beloved childhood favourite. However, for those (like this reviewer) who don’t believe that a centuries old children's book needs to be consistently dealt with reverence and admiration, this is a spellbinding and captivating work. Wise’s portrayal of haunted characters in a haunted world is a world away from Barrie's original, but it’s a world that is unique and refreshing. Highly recommended.

 

Callum McKelvie

 

 

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