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KENSINGTON GARDENS by Rodrigo Fresán Kirkus Star

KENSINGTON GARDENS

By Rodrigo Fresán (Author) , Natasha Wimmer (Translator)

Pub Date: June 13th, 2006
ISBN: 0-374-18101-2
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Dark-hearted, sinuously plotted journey into the world of children’s literature.

Peter Hook, the narrator of this novel, is a classically paranoid personality. Raised in London, the child and intellectual heir of two troubled and brilliant ’60s dilettantes, he has lost the ability to make the distinction between fact and fiction, his own memories and the stories he has absorbed throughout his life. The structuring event of Peter’s life is the death of his younger brother when both were children. After his brother dies, his parents spend their time in frantic pursuit of an artistic mode angry and eloquent enough to express their loss. Peter, similarly haunted, turns to books and films, believing himself to be the only true citizen of the tribe of Peter Pan’s lost boys. He devours books, films, biographies, music and becomes a writer himself, authoring the Jim Yang series of children’s books. The novel is organized around Peter Hook’s psychic break; he has kidnapped Keiko Kai, a young boy set to play Jim Yang in a film. Peter tells the whole story to Keiko in a single night, obsessively noting the coincidences between his own life and the life of J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan. Both lost their brothers, both turned to children’s books as a way to express their outrage and sorrow, and both failed, according to Peter’s narrative, to find peace through writing. The text moves between a carefully researched and deeply felt biography of J.M. Barrie and the Davies children for whom Peter Pan was created, and an emotionally brutal description of Hook’s youth, spent under the benignly neglectful care of narcissistic adults. Barrie’s and Hook’s lives intertwine and reference one another, and the text moves effortlessly between the present and the past, which Hook stitches together with a series of cultural references drawn from the 19th-century London stage, Scottish folk songs, films of every decade, the Beatles song book and, of course, every version of Peter Pan.

Hook’s voice is at once seductive and frantic; the feverish, hallucinatory quality of the prose makes the book hard to resist.