According to popular wisdom, there are only seven original plot lines for stories and every thing else is but a variation. This is not a theory generally put about by publishers, nor by authors. No wonder then that every now and then I am presented with books that are almost mirror images of each other, despite being penned by different people. It breaks my heart to think that two authors might have laboured away, sometimes for years, only to find themselves shadow boxing their alter ego on release day.
If that were not hazardous enough for authors, there is the situation of a novel that has captured the zeitgeist of the moment, that becomes the standard by which all other ones in the genre are judged. In 2003 for example, Mark Haddon blew everyone away with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. That, and John Boyne’s The Boy in Striped Pyjamas a few years later, became the benchmarks for the authentic depiction of the child’s voice in adult fiction. Darren Groth’s Kindling was a great addition, with the advantage of having a wonderfully Australian setting. Last year, Emma Donaghue’s Room, longlisted for the Man Booker, added gravitas to this sub-genre of contemporary writing. There have been a swag of wannabes and notgoodenoughs but these four have stood out as beacons. Until now.
Recently, I was presented with three debut novels for early 2012, each one being sold to me as the natural successor in that lineage. I have dipped into all three but only one quickly became mandatory reading.
I don’t know which of the seven plot lines Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend draws on, but I can tell you that Matthew Green’s debut novel is fresh and original enough to almost live up to its publisher’s claim of being “unforgettable”. Certainly it was that other over-used word – “unputdownable”.
Not only is Green clever enough to get into the headspace of a youngster, he is clever enough to do it with the clarion call of authenticity – no mean feat given that the child in question is Budo, who is in fact an imaginary creation of a boy called Max. Max is no ordinary boy. If he were described by an adult, he might be labelled autistic, or Aspergers, or something else (not that his peculiar behavioural traits are labelled by Budo – it is simply my interpretation of Budo’s observations). And Budo is no ordinary imaginary friend. For a start, at about 10, he is comparatively old and he is staring down the barrel of his own mortality. (Imaginary friends have a short life span because they die when the person who created them stops believing in them). Budo is also the only one who can save Max from a situation that is very real, very scary and that no one could possibly have imagined or anticipated.
In Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, Green has done something quite remarkable. He has written a book which requires an adult intellect, and adult emotions, to navigate despite presenting it entirely from the perspective of the child within us all. It is a tense psychological thriller, and in parts, it is an absolute page-turner. And he has penned a warm and moving story about life, death, love, loyalty and destiny. This is no block-buster, but if you are anything like me, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend will leave you sadder, happier and itching to talk to someone about the ingenious, the incredible, the invisible Budo.
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is available to be ordered from Booktopia now, for delivery from the end of February 2012.