Fever Dream By Samanta Schweblin

FEVERI have been trying to explain / review / recommend Fever Dream for weeks now and I often find myself stuck between the compulsive need to push it onto readers just so I can have someone who would swap theories with me (about the ending, the beginning, THE End?) and the impossibility of a coherent description that wouldn’t spoil your fun. It’s hard to believe I’m writing this about a novelette of barely 160 pages, but Samanta Schweblin does not waste a single word in building one of the most interesting stories I’ve read in a while.

Fever Dream reads like a two-hander for an indie theatre. It’s easy to imagine Amanda, the dying woman trapped inside her memories, and David, the obsessive young man kneeling by her hospital bed narrating the story on a spare, ominously-lit stage. That’s all there is on the page: a relentless Q&A in which David pushes Amanda to analyze the mental film reel of a particular afternoon she had spent with David’s mother. They’re trying to get as close as possible to a Patient Zero moment—the exact instant in which “the worms” were unleashed.

It’s very important, it’s very important for us all.

 

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The novel has been shortlisted for International Manbookers Prize 2017

 

We do not know what the worms are, we just sense that they’re killing Amanda and might be killing them / us all. The film reel cranks back to that afternoon. David’s mother Carla breaks down in front of Amanda, confessing that she’s terrified of her own son. David has been sick for six years, ever since he drifted into a poisoned stream running through the tranquil Argentine countryside. Carla has miscalculated the rescue distance (the novel’s title in the original is Distancia de rescate), an almost maniacal approximation of how far away a mother can be from her children before it’s too late to save them. Amanda’s inherited this obsession from her own mother, but—as she makes it clear from the very beginning—she’s failed at keeping her beloved daughter Nina safe, just like Carla has failed David. Worse even.

“No, that’s not the story, it has nothing to do with the exact moment. Don’t get distracted […] None of this is important.”

I can hear David creep-screeching into my ear and interrupting the flashback as I type this. OK, OK, fine! (It is though. All of it is important—maternal love and obsession, collective guilt and individual responsibility… but yes, we don’t have time, I get it.) From Amanda’s stuttering memories we piece together David’s story. Following his toxic river incident, a desperate Carla rushes David to a local psychic. The old woman warns that the boy’s survival comes at a steep price: David’s soul will be separated from his body and migrated to another host. Carla accepts the bargain. Six years later, the family pets are dead and David no longer calls her Mother. There is nothing but darkness behind his eyes.

I could go on about what happens when David met Nina, except—we don’t really know. That’s *drumroll* not important. The tension grows as the stain of toxicity spreads and spreads and we eventually see where the poison originates. The revelation of the rescue distance between Amanda and Nina in the exact moment in which the hinted at ecological disaster unfolds and Nina becomes infected with “the worms” is a punch to the stomach.

If you read any of this and thought: oh, nice, South American magical realism… I’m sorry, we can never be friends. Personal bias against the genre aside, Fever Dream is not a book you can easily pigeonhole. Like South America itself, it is far removed from the monolithic and antiquated notions still floating about literature translated from the continent. If I were to call it anything other than excellent, I would think of it as a thoroughly modern piece of eco-gothic-thriller-meditation on our tragic inability to protect our loved ones as we poison the world around us. (And that’s only scratching the surface tension. There is an entire layer of narrative I’m probably not qualified to pick up on as I’m not up to speed with the environmental impact of intensive farming in Argentina.)

Call it whatever you want, but read it and then come tell me all about your theories and help me figure out what was up with that nightmarish bird.

Published By One World. 160 pages. Translated by Megan Mcdowell.

Sofia Fara International Fiction blogger and member of Books Without Borders Bookclub.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fever Dream By Samanta Schweblin

Asia House Literary Event – The GloBooks Review

If you were looking for two great authors brought together at one event then Asia House did just that, packing a punch with author Preti Taneja  (pictured right) and also Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay.(pictured left)

                          

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Preti-Taneja-We-That-Are_Young-PbPreti Taneja author of her new novel We That Are Young (published by Gallery Begger Press) is a virtuoso retelling of King Lear set in modern-day India, described by Andrew Motion as “utterly unique and breath-taking“. NEWNOVEL.jpg

 

Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay`s novel Panty  tells of a woman who upon arriving alone in Kolkata, taking refuge in a deserted apartment finds a stained pair of leopard print panties in the otherwise-empty wardrobe she begins to fantasise about their former owner, whose imagined life comes to blur with and overlap her own.

Published in 2004, the novel sparked controversy for its risque writing but  here`s the real rub, are we any more liberated in our beliefs now ? And just how are women portrayed in literature ? Chair Deborah Smith co-winner of International  Manbooker prize 2016 for Han Kang`s novel The Vegetarian, navigated us through the discussion.

Smith picks apart the novel Panty and frames one of its core themes, the omnipotent idea of being faceless or having the ability to be anonymous as Bandyopadhyay explains;

Anonymity is a form of freedom [a form of the  characters and of the places in the time structures, where nothing is mentioned, where the beginning can be the end and middle can be the end and so on”

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Deborah Smith talked about the experience of writing novels for a particular audience. How do you write for a particular audience ? How aware are you of the  audience? Author Preti Taneja definitely doesn`t let the audience shape her writing as she reveals;

I think when you are writing, you just have to do the writing because if I start thinking about this English speaking audience who might read. [i think] are they English speaking from India, or are they diaspora . So I’m starting to create divisions in my mind, divisions of identity because I don’t think people read like that actually. I don’t think like that

As far as Bandyopadhyay`s novel is concerned, Panty is a powerful story, partly because it is written from a female perspective. Yet in the past, so many erotic novels have been written by male authors, who have arguably objectified women, adding in usual voyeurism to boot. Did her novel address this imbalance and are there more novels now written by women ?

“In Bengal I can tell you there are 3 or 4 writers who have written about feminism. Men too but they did not write about the sufferings or the pains. Men have not written it as women have, women have written it as blood and flesh. There have been very few women [authors] after me… No one talks about it because of women`s rights or feminism”.”

Love international fiction? Check out http://www.globoooks.net . Or why not join the London based Books Without Borders Bookclub ?

And other news…. In a http://www.globooks.net & http://www.asianculturevulture.com  event, author  Preti Taneja will appear at Waterstones Piccadilly on July 28th !  Details now 

 

 

 

Asia House Literary Event – The GloBooks Review