Title: Fever Dream
Author: Samanta Schweblin
Genre: Fiction, contemporary, surrealism, horror
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Book Depository.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: A woman named Amanda is dying of poison in a rural hospital clinic. Next to her sits a strange young boy named David, but he’s not her son. David urges Amanda to recall what has happened to her, and through their conversation emerges a feverish nightmare about damaged souls, toxins, and motherly love.
“She called you a monster, and I keep thinking about that. It must be very sad to be whatever it is you are now, and on top of that your mother calls you a monster.”
– Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin
This is the first book from the Man Booker International Prize 2017 longlist that I’ve finished so far (I know, I’m slow), and it’s the kind of book that probably should be re-read immediately after you’ve finished it. It’s so short it can be read in one sitting, it’s all written in one continuous dialogue with no chapters, making it hard to find a place to stop, and I think it would reveal more and maybe make more sense after a second read.
This is a confusing novel, and I’m still not sure exactly what it is that I’ve read, but I don’t necessarily mean that in bad way. Just like the fever dream the title refers to, there are no clear images from the start. You get a hazy outline of the situation and you’ll just have to take it and go from there. You have to keep reading to understand what’s going on as no information is given to you straight away. The events unfold gradually, sometimes via detours, and there is a lot happening even though it sometimes feels like this is a story without a set plot.
The things that have happened up until Amanda’s hospitalization is told entirely through a dialogue between Amanda and David. Apart from David’s lines being written in italics, there are no quotation marks that distinguish them from each other. A novel that is literally a wall of text in the form of one long dialogue took some getting used to for me, and I’m glad it’s such a short book. Once I got used to it however, I was hooked and kept turning pages in search of answers.
I really love the writing in this book. It’s so smooth and fittingly dreamlike. The overall atmosphere is sluggish and confusing. Everything feels uncomfortable and stuffy, there’s a constant, lingering feeling of dread and evil, but it’s spellbinding at the same time. Schweblin creates imagery that is absolutely beautiful, despite the creepy story.
It’s also hard to place this book in a certain genre. So many interesting themes slowly emerge throughout the book, such as superstition, the use of toxins, and the lengths a mother is willing to go to save her child. You can read this book as a cautionary tale, both on the realistic and on the more supernatural side. This is in many ways an eco-horror, where it demonstrates the reality of toxins and the widespread damage it can do. At the same time you have a supernatural element in the background that concerns the effect of people’s superstitions, but whether this element is real or metaphorical or the result of a delusion is unclear. The form of this story is surreal but at the same time it’s a very realistic tale. It’s safe to say I haven’t read anything like it before and in a way I love that it is so difficult to place.
I did enjoy the story progression in itself more than the eventual conclusion, probably because we know from the start where it’s all headed; it’s already revealed in the book’s summary. I also think that if the book was any longer I would have found it tiresome in all its elusiveness and obscurity, but overall I really enjoyed this. It’s a book that definitely won’t be for everyone, but I recommend this if you don’t mind a bit of confusion and weirdness, and if you’re interested in a unique and unsettling read.