‘For those that lived there, Neverland was a children s paradise. No rules, no adults, only endless adventure and enchanted forests all led by the charismatic boy who would never grow old. But Wendy Darling grew up. She has a husband and a young daughter called Jane, a life in London. But one night, after all these years, Peter Pan returns. Wendy finds him outside her daughter’s window, looking to claim a new mother for his Lost Boys. But instead of Wendy, he takes Jane. Now a grown woman, a mother, a patient and a survivor, Wendy must follow Peter back to Neverland to rescue her daughter and finally face the darkness at the heart of the island.’
Wendy, Darling is a brilliant and haunting retelling of the Peter Pan story, focusing on what happened to Wendy after her return from Neverland. While her brothers are soon able to put Neverland behind them and begin to dismiss it as a fantasy, this is something that Wendy finds herself unwilling and unable to do, which leads to her eventual admittance to an institution, where she has to learn to survive and what it will take for her to retain some sense of self in the face of those who only want her to conform. When she is eventually brought back into society, her troubles are far from over, for after spending years trying to build a life for herself and her new family, Peter Pan returns. Except, upon discovering her adult self, it isn’t Wendy that he wants. It’s her daughter, Jane, who he steals away to Neverland.
The novel’s re-imagining of Neverland is a dark, twisted and dangerous place, manipulated by a boy who seems to utterly lack empathy and any understanding of the needs of others – or anything that isn’t exactly what he wishes. Here, Peter Pan is transformed from the innocent, fun-loving character that the reader may remember from various childhood stories, and into a creature that feels as if it is made of the grim realities of adulthood and the shadows of the inability to believe in the magic and whimsical realities that children can. To a child’s eyes, Peter Pan is joyful and magical, and Neverland a dreamy escape, while to an adult, Peter Pan – this Peter Pan – is a stealer of children and an invitation to all sorts of dangers. He is manipulative and wilfully ignorant in his supposed innocence, willing to hurt and lash out at anyone who argues with him or is a threat to his fun and games, needing child subjects to be admired by and opportunities to demonstrate his power over them. He is utterly frightening in this incarnation, simply because the reader can see exactly what he is doing and so many of the lost boys cannot, and though the novel is a retelling, it also feels absolutely as if it isn’t – as if this is the Neverland we simply didn’t notice when we were younger.
Much of the book centres around the idea of family, starting with Wendy’s relationship with her brothers and the trauma they experience owing to Neverland and the reality of war, going from play-fighting to suffering from PTSD in the wake of being very real soldiers. They hardly seem to know how to help themselves, let alone Wendy, and while poor choices are made on her behalf, they appear to be trying to do their best by her – and she is ultimately more forgiving than some may think they deserve. But they are her family, and while not by choice initially, it feels as if she does choose them by the story’s end, just as she chooses who is a part of the family formed by her marriage.
She and her husband, Ned, make the decision to build a friendship in a marriage that wouldn’t have been a first choice for either of them, and are as open as they can be – as much as Wendy can manage – about their relationship and who they are, both as individuals and together. Their family includes Mary, a friend, sister and perhaps more, and their daughter, Jane, who is loved by all of them. While they are happy together, Wendy’s father-in-law is the blight on their lives, his expectations and judgemental nature causing them all to take precautions about being too much of themselves around him. In returning to Neverland to rescue Jane, Wendy brings the facets of herself that society would have her suppress to the fore: her cleverness, her heart and her strength as a woman and a mother, and with them a greater understanding of herself, her relationships and all that she’s endured and wants for herself and those she loves.
Wendy, Darling is a beautiful, fantastically written book, and a powerful story that grabs you and won’t let go. Thank you, Titan Books, for sending me a copy!