William Mayne Margaret Meek - Essay

Margaret Meek

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

To approach Max's Dream the reader has to switch into the rhythm of the language of recollection, so that the "then and there" becomes the here and now. Among William Mayne's many gifts is a facility for making memories for those too young to have them, so that his readers go back over experiences they never had….

The reader learns the rhythm of the narrative from William Mayne's delicate pacing. Familiar dialect conversation centres on immediate events, while the before-and-after comes with a slightly breathless tumbling of sentences as events crowd the recollection.

It is impossible to write about William Mayne without sampling the texture of his prose. The tenses of his verbs need a study of their own. "I hanged the kettle over the fire and we had a cup of tea and now it's time for bed." The adult reader looks at the surface structures, the child sees through them, once he is confident, into Max's dream world as it merges with the strenuous efforts Katie makes, her own foot blistered and raw with a burn, to ease his pain. Accidents, fights, and Max near death are swooped over in the long sentence strings, while the ferry with "a sort of gallows and there the bell do hang" and the surgeon with his things "all as black bones and leather" stand out as shaped events. The reader's privilege is to take part in the play of the text and emerge the more literate for his efforts. (p. 1413)

Margaret Meek, in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), December 2, 1977.