Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is a charming but slightly unsatisfying book that is self-described as similar to “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon and “Room” by Emma Donaghue. Whilst I can see the reasons for these comparisons and I did enjoy Green’s book, I don’t think it quite compares to either of the other titles, especially Haddon’s, which seems to have become a classic, ergo reference-point/inspiration for any book narrated by child-like characters and/or characters on the autistic spectrum.
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend appealed to me both for its subject matter (I work with children, I am interested in SEN; such books, however structured, always hold an appeal for me) but also its particular angle, which I thought particularly inventive (it is narrated by an 8-year old boy’s imaginary friend).
Budo is the imaginary friend of Max, an 8 year-old boy who has difficulties never explicitly defined, but that we are led to believe are probably to do with a mild form of undiagnosed autism/Asperger’s syndrome. Budo has been alive for much longer than most imaginary friends due to the part he plays in helping Max, who has great difficultly in understanding the world around him.
Imaginary Friends, Budo tells us, can only be seen by other imaginary friends and the human who imagined them. They only have the abilities that their imaginer imagined. Budo, for example, can pass through doors because Max imagined he could; other imaginary friends cannot, because their imaginers did not imagine they could. I found this imaginary friend world interesting in its construction and entertaining in its execution. For example, Budo encounters an imaginary friend shaped like a spoon. I know there are other readers who found this alternative world construction overdone, but I liked it a lot. However, quite a lot of the book is taken up with learning about Budo and Max’s world, which can get a little repetitive. The narrative voice does not allow much in terms of language/tone variation. It almost seems that the writing style is written for children as well as being from the perspective of a child, whilst the themes are more adult.
One of the more interesting plot threads deals with Max’s parents’ feelings about their son and their confusion and frustration about his behaviour. This is not explored in a huge amount of depth; however I think that it is appropriately and sensitively done.
The “main event” of the novel is the only thing that I had a difficult time believing – the way it happens and the ending seemed very derivative and predictable. I won’t say too much more for fear of spoilers, but I thought that it was all a bit too tidy, and a bit too similar at times to other books I’ve read. Everyone kind of behaves how they ought to behave (even the “baddies”) and things are tied up a little too nicely at the end.
It is, however, a nice story, and well told. I read it as a little bit of light relief after The Glass Room, and it was an enjoyable quick read and just what I needed.