Toys, Food And Time Preserved Essay, Research Paper
Toys, food and time preservedThe Dream Room by Marcel Möring, trans Stacey Knecht 118pp, FlamingoOne of the many remarkable achievements of this precise yet mysterious novel is its brevity: into its 120-odd pages Marcel Möring folds a war memoir, a family psychodrama and a meditation on time and memory. With a winning lightness of touch, he pinpoints that cusp of adolescence when a child begins to wake up to what he is, feeling “the first nudge in the back that later becomes the rhythm of life itself, grown-up life”, and to apprehend the multi-layered pasts that have made his parents what they are. His narrator, David, a grave, precocious 12-year-old, paints a scenario of simple, fairytale charm: he lives above a toyshop with his dynamic mother and absent-minded inventor father “in a bubble where everything was quiet and sheltered and friendly”. A child’s favourite story tends to be the one of how they came to exist in the world, and David’s myth of origins has an unusually poetic certainty. His mother Julia, a nurse, instantly recognised something in his father when he was brought into hospital after a terrible flying accident, and fainted with love and compassion when the surgeon began to operate. “And so they met: the pilot who fell from the sky and the nurse who fell to the floor.” Except that his father, Philip, could no longer fulfil his passion for flight; and now, years later, David comes home from school to find that both parents have lost their jobs. No matter – David, who already cooks for the family, comes up with a plan to save them that might, in a different novel, look like cruel irony: making model aeroplanes. The shabby flat is filled with colourful, enticing boxes and dull lumps of grey plastic, intimacy and absence, the certitude of parental love and the fading of adult hopes. Outside reality encroaches in the shape of terrible rains that bring the family unit into bright, vulnerable focus. As David remarks ruefully, “Our house wasn’t holding up too well.” Elsewhere, Möring has defined memory as “preserved time”; he builds the novel episodically, layering memory on anecdote, stories on a single gesture, conjuring revelatory tableaux that set the tone of a life. He unpacks from David’s burgeoning apprehension the story of his father’s flight from the Netherlands after the Nazi invasion, and “the dream room” where he spent his convalescence, the walls studded with paintings and photographs chosen by Julia to spark his memory and imagination. In the sunniest section, the enigmatic family friend Humbert Coe encourages David’s fledgling passion for cookery by taking him to a provincial Dutch restaurant, where he calmly commandeers the kitchen and puts the cook to shame. This one evening, in which talent and hope and curiosity come together, will reverberate through David’s lifetime and crystallise into family legend, along with the sadder adult truths and complications that Coe reveals. Like The Go-Between, The Dream Room effortlessly weaves the freshness of a child’s perspective with the wisdom of recollection. It is a miracle of compression: everything is significant, yet nothing is laboured. One races through it, eager to discover the heart of the mystery, right to the end of the stubbornly resistant coda in which the adult David offers us a fairy story; the concentrated narrative perfected into myth. And then one reads it again, still looking for the kind of answers that can’t be put into words.
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