*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Imagine a world where sleep could trap you, for days, for weeks, for months…
Karen Thompson Walker’s second novel tells the mesmerising story of a town transformed by a mystery illness that locks people in perpetual sleep and triggers extraordinary, life-altering dreams.
One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her room and falls asleep. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster.
Written in luminous prose, The Dreamers is a breathtaking and beautiful novel, startling and provocative, about the possibilities contained within a human life if only we are awakened to them.
I am always intrigued by plots centred on sleep and dreaming. Whilst research has gone into mapping brain waves and patterns whilst people sleep and dream, and scientific understanding is increasing, there will always be a gap between the logical explanations and the reality of the feeling we dreamers have in the moment; the feeling that this is real, this is happening, even when it cannot be possible.
The Dreamers explores our concept of sleep, and does touch upon the effect of the dreams, but for the most part the author’s focus remains on the exterior: those who are awake while others sleep.
The story follows a handful of ‘woke’ (in the literal rather than modern sense) individuals across a neighbourhood as the whole town slowly succumbs to a strange sleeping disease which causes people to fall dreaming where they stand and – in some cases – never wake up.
We see college students, new parents, children and elderly lovers struggle to come to grips with this unknown epidemic and the physical and emotional effects it leaves in its wake.
The tone of the story throughout remains emotionally detached, almost as if we reading a factual account of events rather than fiction, and the result is an eerie isolation from events and characters that mirrors the state of the characters themselves: cut off from society, with no knowledge or understanding of what is occurring and no one to guide or give answers.
The reader needn’t expect answers either. Karen Thompson Walker presents here a vignette of these strange events and the travails of the survivors, but offers no neat conclusion to wrap the whole incident up. You are left with the strange echoing feeling that this has happened before and will happen again, and we are no closer to an understanding of how or why.
If you enjoy stories about human instincts and survival in apocalyptic-style scenarios then you will enjoy this story about sleep, waking and what is real.
In 1935, two children went to bed in a Dust Bowl cabin and did not wake for nine days. Some similar contagion once crept through a Mexican village – El Niente, they called it: “the Nothing.” And three thousand years before that, a Greek poet described a string of strange deaths in a village near the sea: they died, he wrote, as if overcome by sleep – or, according to a second translation: as if drowned in a dream.
This time, it starts at the college.
– Karen Thompson Walker, The Dreamers
The Dreamers is available at Amazon and other good bookshops right now.