Friday July 20, 2012
Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend
Review by SHARMILLA GANESAN
Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend
Author: Matthew Green
Publisher: Sphere, 417 pages
WHEN I was a young child, I had an imaginary friend. And if I didn’t know better, I would think Matthew Green had been talking to him. Green illustrates the world of imaginary friends so vividly that after reading his book, I was left with an odd sense of loss for my own childhood fantasies.
According to Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend, imaginary friends are real; they come into existence when a child dreams them up, and exist for as long as the child continues to believe in them. Each friend can only be seen by the human who imagined them, though the imaginary friends can see and communicate with each other, as they live unseen amongst us.
Written in the vein of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time and Emma Donoghue’s Room, Memoirs is told from the point of view of Budo, a friend imagined by the eight-year-old Max, and so employs a charmingly simple narrative style. While the literary device isn’t new, Green’s approach, with just the right balance of humour and pathos, is hard to resist – Budo’s childlike yet surprisingly perceptive view of the human world is one of the best reasons to pick up this book.
Budo has been alive for five years, which, as he explains, is a long time for an imaginary friend to be around, as most children let go of these companions by the time they’re in elementary school. Some imaginary friends, he says, barely last a week.
But Max is different from most children; he lives, as Budo puts it, “on the inside”, and so has held on to his friend longer than most other kids (while it is never explicitly mentioned, Max seems to have some form of autism). And so while Budo loves his human friend with all his being, he also lives with the constant fear that Max may soon forget him, and he will cease to exist. When Max finds himself in danger, however, Budo must make a difficult choice: to save Max and risk his existence, or ensure his own survival.
Memoirs’ strength lies in the way Green addresses complex issues such as relationships, loyalty, mortality and sacrifice through simple, everyday observations. While everything we see of the other characters is through Budo’s eyes, his innocent interpretation of their words and actions often speaks volumes, particularly since they don’t know that he’s watching.
That Green uses Budo’s unique viewpoint to give us insight into Max’s world is particularly clever and touching. To Budo, Max doesn’t pose a puzzle, he is simply someone who interacts differently with the world. Reading the contrast between how others perceive Max’s actions and Budo’s understanding of them creates some of the book’s most profound moments.
The story also provides many whimsical pleasures. Budo’s adventures and interactions with the other imaginary friends, though tinged with a sense of impending loss, are often delightful, as are Green’s descriptions of the many friends that can result from children’s overactive imaginations.
The imaginary friends, however, are more than just quirky characters. Several of them leave an indelible impression, each showing us the different ways people deal with the knowledge of their own end. All this is a lot of background to weave into a story, and Green does switch quite often to some heavy exposition. To his credit, this almost never feels overwrought. While the book slows down somewhat towards the middle, the second half is a masterwork of escalating suspense and emotions.
As Budo races against time to help Max, you can’t stop turning the pages, never knowing whether to expect the worst. This is where all the threads Green has been weaving come together, and you find yourself gritting your teeth in dread or cheering Budo and Max on.
And as the story reaches its bittersweet conclusion, it is difficult not to shed a tear or two – both for the characters in the book and for that lingering feeling that there is something we’ve left behind as we crossed the threshold into adulthood.