Fever Dream is a short Argentinean book that had book club scared, confused and thrilled.
This was the book we were assigned to read in our role as shadow judges for the Man Booker International Prize. It was certainly something that took us out of our comfort zone, and we were intrigued to read a book with such buzz.
It’s the first novel by Argentinean author Samantha Schweblin. She has some pretty prestigious accolades under her belt – including being named one of the best Spanish writers under 35 by Granta and earning the Juan Rulfo Story Prize for her short story collections. Her work has been translated into 20 languages.
Fever Dream has earned some very complimentary reviews. The New Yorker said the “book is suffused with haunting images and big questions”, while Emma Cline (author of The Girls) described it as a “nauseous, eerie read, sickeningly good”. The Man Booker International Prize nomination seems only the tip of an iceberg of literary praise.
What’s it about?
Here’s the blurb from the publisher:
A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child.
The two seem anxious and, at David’s ever more insistent prompting, Amanda recounts a series of events from the apparently recent past. As David pushes her to recall whatever trauma has landed her in her terminal state, he unwittingly opens a chest of horrors, and suddenly the terrifying nature of their reality is brought into shocking focus.
What’s good about it?
We all loved this book and rattled through its 150 pages with speed – Gail even read it twice.
It’s a unique premise that keeps you guessing throughout. The lines between reality and dream, truth and lies, consciousness and confusion are constantly blurred, giving a distorting effect that means you’re never quite sure of what’s going on.
The book will terrify you. Alison had to check her doors were locked at one point to continue reading in safety. The atmosphere is so tense there’s an almost tangible fear permeating the text through which you absorb Amanda’s dread.
Schweblin’s prose has been beautifully translated to retain the depth and nuances of the original. The translator deserves as much credit for the Man Booker nod as the author. The ephemeral fleetingness of the compact pages is balanced with rich suspense to create perfectly pitched prose. It echoes the traditions of magic realism honed in South America and is a book distinctly of its continent.
What’s not so good about it?
I can’t say we were fully certain of the outcome or circumstances of the events in the book. But we weren’t supposed to be.
The sense of confusion can be frustrating at times but is rewarded with a magnificent tapestry of threads from which you can draw your own conclusions. In fact, we debated quite a few of the plotlines and derived many and varied meanings from each of them.
Fever Dream scared us, confused us and shocked us and we loved it. It was definitely a hit with book club.
Pic credit: The New Yorker