Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin and Megan McDowell (translator)
|Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin and Megan McDowell (translator)|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: As usual, an exercise in presenting awkward stories awkwardly may well exercise the reader too much, but this has so many clear, startling elements it remains worth a look.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 160||Date: March 2017|
|Publisher: Oneworld Publications|
Meet Carla. She's a glamorous older woman, with poise and beauty, and someone who still looks a treat in a golden bikini. But inside, she's different. The biggest issue she seems to bear relates to an event a few years ago, when her horse breeder husband had the drama of both a hired, valuable stallion, and their son, being poisoned. Away from the right medical treatment, Carla took David to a woman who said the only hope was a 'migration' – basically, to farm out part of David's spirit and swap it with someone else's, to dilute the toxin. This was a success, as David seems to have survived, although Carla is sure it was the wrong decision – she now sees David as at least part monster. But another odd thing about this tale is that it isn't being narrated by Carla, but by her neighbour, another mother called Amanda, who is renting a holiday home nearby. And the further odd thing is to whom she is narrating this story – it's to David…
There were two hindrances to me early on in this book - Amanda, and David. She definitely comes across as too assured a narrator, reporting dialogue other people have reported to her in full confidence of her veracity. If this is her Fever Dream, then it's one with utmost clarity. And as for David, you to have to take what questions he's asking and how with a little leeway – without knowing how old he is, and what the situation is, it was awkward to get a grip on him at first. I actually thought there was a printing error at one point, thinking who was italicised and who wasn't had been switched in error.
But no, there is no error in this faultless presentation. What there is, however, is a guarantee of a struggle, however great, to get to the perfect heart of this novella. If you're perfectly in tune with the speakers from page one, and remain so to the end, as I say you will be a better man than I Gunga Din, but you will still potentially find more that raises an eyebrow. The book is definitely plain fiction (whether general or literary fiction is itself a matter of some debate) but it has great genre elements within it. The book touches on the ghostly, with a dislocation as regards who people are, where people are, what happened and what is currently happening…
Get a full grasp on everything and you will find admirable visual images – the tainted holiday home like no other, the beat-perfect evocation of a mother's worry about her daughter, and a glossy, summery outlook hiding something, a la David Lynch, beneath itself. But I think the clarity at times was a little too underdone. If I can force a metaphor on things, you will reach the ending thinking to get a full windscreen wiper's worth of resolution, wiping away all the obfuscation and pinpointing the mystery. Instead, it's what you get from just the initial pass of unclean wiper blades – a smear, causing you to squint in case you miss the essential. If you dislike missing that essential, or at least the unease that comes from worrying you have, then you won't thank me for recommending this title. If you're open to the extra hard work, these snappy little pages will definitely compel. I found nothing here to love, but much to admire – this debut novel shows great promise.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
I'd shelve this somewhere between magic realism and the works of Pascal Garnier – certainly his work Moon in a Dead Eye, with darkness in a gated holiday retirement community, felt a close companion.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin and Megan McDowell (translator) at Amazon.com.
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