We’ve all had imaginary friends, sometimes as a child, as an excuse for misbehaviour and cheekiness, or as a cure for loneliness. As we get older we stop having imaginary friends, and graduate up to internet friends, as they are more likely to send you presents on your birthday or get drunk and show you their bottom.
It’s the more child-like version that is covered in A.F. Harrold’s lovely new book The Imaginary, a story about Amanda and her friend Rudger, who just happens to be imaginary. When the mysterious Mr Bunting shows up, and is revealed to be a hunter of Imaginaries, and an accident takes Amanda out of the picture, Rudger ends up running for his imaginary life, with his fate unsure, for if nobody is there to imagine him, will he cease to exist?
Told in a very likeable style, with elements reminiscent of both Roald Dahl and Philip Pullman, this book has both light-hearted elements, silly moments (a pink dinosaur called Snowflake shows up) and some downright creepy moments. The initial encounter between Rudger and Mr Bunting’s Imaginary Girl could ever be described as really quite scary, in both intensity and the sheer What The Hell is Happening of the scene.
The concept of imaginary friends does echo Pullman’s daemon concept from His Dark Materials, in that they seem to simply exist, with no real explanation until absolutely needed. The initial meeting of Rudger and Amanda is simply the meeting of two friends, rather than a girl being haunted by what is essentially a supernatural being.
My daughter (11) was apprehensive to read this at first, as the prologue is especially dark, but once she got into the story, and especially in the latter half of the book, she said she couldn’t put the book down. She did say she preferred the more fun elements of the book to the darker moments, but I think this is probably the first scary book she’s ever read, other than The Witches by Roald Dahl (which no matter what anyone says, is one of my all-time scariest books ever). I was gonna get a photo of her reading the book for the purpose of the review, but we had chilli con carne for tea and she has yet to wash all the muck off her face. This is also the reason I haven’t done a photo of my face with the book.
I would probably recommend this book for ages 8+, as some of the elements could be considered a little too intense for younger readers, although the illustrations by Emily Gravett did appeal to my other daughter (6) enough that she did ask for me to read parts as a bedtime story for a couple of nights (fortunately we didn’t have any scary moments).
You can pick up a copy of The Imaginary on Amazon HERE, or in any good bookshop, if any still exist. Perhaps an imaginary good book shop would be the best place to buy such a book.
I wrote this book with the help of my imaginary friend, Bonzo MacGooty. He also ate a full packet of jaffa cakes and then put the crumbs in my beard so I got the blame.