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The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

The Dreamers

by Karen Thompson Walker

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2403171,495 (3.98)14
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    Severance by Ling Ma (Anonymous user)

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‘How can anyone say for sure that the other life was the dream, and not this one?’

Having read, and enjoyed, Walker’s previous novel ‘The Age of Miracles’ I was greatly looking forward to her new book – and I was not disappointed. There is a current debate about the use of present tense in many modern novels: some see it as a blight on literature, others as a way of freeing aspects of the text and story. For many readers this might be the most obvious/jarring aspect of the book for the first few pages, and some might not get over it! For me, I think it works in this instance; it adds an almost ethereal tone to the telling of the story, but also adds an immediacy and a pace to the book as events gain momentum. Here there is no distance in which to reflect and consider the events, for the reader is caught up in the action as much as the characters.

This is the story of a sleeping virus that starts in one floor of a college dormitory and then spreads throughout the sleepy Californian town of Santa Lora. There is no cause found, there is no answer to what is happening – or indeed why. The book concentrates on a small number of characters: a father and his two daughters; two of the students from the dorm; a psychiatrist sent to treat the victims; parents of a new-born child struggling to cope. As their lives are turned upside down by the outbreak, we sense the growing paranoia, the conspiracy theories, the bewilderment of a town caught up in a complete breakdown of society: streets are empty, infected houses are marked with an X, residents are interned in camps, victims lie undiscovered and die. This is a modern society imploding, reverting to olden days of plague and Spanish Flu. And all the while the victims lie asleep, eyelids flickering in REM sleep as their minds produce ‘more activity than has ever been recorded in any human brain’.

Walker deliberately leaves the questions unanswered, and even as the outbreak ends and the victims awaken, we are left with a tangible sense of wonder: some have dreamt of the past, some of the future, many feel like they have been asleep for much longer than they actually have. We are left with a sense of time turning in on itself, distorting: ‘past, present, future – a physicist might say that these distinctions are illusions anyway’.

For all of the action that takes place – and the book does move along at a good pace – this is a meditative, dream-like book to match the subject matter. It doesn’t provide easy answers, and we are left with a sense of having experienced something just beyond our understanding. The characters are believable and sympathetic, the growing sense of paranoia and fear is palpable, and as ever with Walker the writing is beautifully crafted. This is a great book, one to make you think and marvel that in the great advances of science and technology, there is so much more that is unknown, and wonderful, and horrific. Somewhere between 4 and 5 stars, depending on how generous I am. Definitely a recommended book for everyone!

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC in return for an unbiased and honest review.) ( )
  Alan.M | Apr 16, 2019 |
Interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying, book about what happens to a small California town when a new virus begin to infect the town's population. I say "unsatisfying" because the book doesn't really answer some of the questions it raises about the virus and its effects - you might not feel the same way because open-ended books don't frustrate you, so don't let me scare you away.

Thompson does a good job in focusing on a finite set of characters who mostly ultimately fail to fight off exposure to the virus, and ultimately, the book is more about these characters and how they react to their situation than it is about the virus itself. ( )
  SamSattler | Mar 29, 2019 |
The Dreamers is an odd story. It could almost be a novel about the path of infection and its impact on society, but it stops short from becoming a medical drama. It could be a story about survivors, but it never quite reaches that path. Instead, I would describe it best as a story about isolation and its many guises. There is minimal action within the novel; the disease involves people sleeping after all. There is also very little dialogue. We experience the beginning, middle, and end of the disease’s reign mainly through the minds of various characters and only sometimes an unknown observer. This lack of direct character interaction lends itself well to the theme of isolation, as does the sleeping disease. After all, sleep is the one activity we do alone and can only ever do alone. Unfortunately, this lack of pretty much anything means The Dreamers is not my type of novel. I want something into which I can escape, and The Dreamers does not allow me to do that. I prefer my books to entertain as well as engage the mind, and The Dreamers is not entertaining. Instead, it is the thinking reader’s type of novel, the kind of literary fiction that certain types of readers will love to dissect sentence by sentence. I will leave them to it.
  jmchshannon | Mar 26, 2019 |
Station Eleven, Severance, Bird Box, and so many others have recently tackled the idea of an epidemic that cripples society. Dreamers does the same thing, but on a smaller more intimate scale. A sleeping disease is spreading through a small town and as more victims succumb, the remaining survivors live in a state of fear. The writing is lyrical and fittingly dream-like. It follows a few different groups, including a married couple with an infant, college students at the heart of the outbreak, and a survivalist and his two daughters. Each has a very different experience, though moments of fear or hope are universal.

BOTTOM LINE: Beautiful, but not at all what I was expecting. Though the fear of what's happening is real, it never has the same sense of urgency. The book intentionally meanders through the crisis, reporting what happens, but focusing more on the emotions of the people in the midst of the drama.

“It doesn’t need to be said, how efficiently an infant proves the relentlessness of time.”

“This is how the sickness travels fast, through all the same channels as do fondness, and friendship, and love." ( )
  bookworm12 | Mar 19, 2019 |
I am the perfect type of reader for this book. I really loved the mystery and unexplained nature of the story, I loved the many different perspectives, and I really loved how all the characters were connected or crossed paths throughout the novel. Super unique plot and I loved it! ( )
  AmalieTurner | Mar 12, 2019 |
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That night, the blind man dreamt that he was blind. --José Saramago, Blindness
For my daughters, Hazel and Penelope, who were both born during the years I was writing this book, and who are everywhere in these pages.
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At first, they blame the air.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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