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

Where The Devil Cant Go: Anya Lipska

Anya Lipska Author of Where the Devil Cant Go. (One of the authors featured on Polish Crime Night.

Lipska`s debut novel begins when a girl gets washed up on a banks of the River Thames.The case involves what appears to be a suicide victim otherwise known in police lexicon as a “floater”.The case is given to the reluctant young career climbing detective Natalie Kershaw by her sergeant. DS Bacon, a wonderfully archaic character who would have his picture right next to the “what is an anachronism ?

Sergeant Bacon otherwise known as Streaky to the team; resorts to shouting at people by their surname and barely masks his chauvinism and near the knuckle sexism. This is a character who seemingly forgot that times have changed and so have our policeman, yet bounds along like an extra from a 70`s Brit cop show. Janusz Kiszka is a Polish builder whose gruff exterior belies a man racked with guilt in all its guises; religious, personal and emotional and one often having to pursue a tenuous relationship with religion, often careering between right and wrong but occasionally hitting the skids in trying to live a life of a God fearing; good Catholic, Polish citizen. His priest and surrogate father figure, Father Pietruski, implores the hard man with a heart to find a missing young waitress. He sets out to find the girl and becomes embroiled in the shady underworld of drug selling, encounters with less then pleased thugs, and cold blooded murder.

After a small but important piece of evidence is discovered, following the death of a second young woman,Kershaw is led straight to Janusz`s door and is doggedly convinced that he is certainly involved in her death. During the first moment of questioning, Kershaw offers her polite but bullet like questions to Januz, gently poking and prodding for the truth. It grates and riles him and forces him to recall his grandfather`s proverb “where the devil cant go, he sends a woman”, a back-handed compliment, if ever there was one.

A wonderful cat and mouse relationship then ensues where Janusz the hunter, now becomes the hunted. Aside from well drawn out characters, Lipska demonstrates a knack for producing wonderful moments of deliciously black comedy; scenes that are dark as much as they are wickedly funny. In one part, Janusz and his cohort Oska are on their way to deliver a lead coffin in a van bound for Poland. Oska has been offered 2000 euros to “repatriate” a body to Poland inorder to avoid a proper burial and any awkward questions being asked about the accidental death of the construction worker. Janusz is clearly frustrated by the fact that they are heading to Poland in a van carrying a coffin and running the very probable risk of being caught not with illegal contraband but a lead coffin. “I still don’t understand how come youre an undertaker now ” Janusz shouts. “Business, Janek what else ?” Oska replies.

For fans of criminology and all slavish followers of television dramas such as the excellent BBC drama “Silent Witness” et al, her meticulous police details especially during autopsy scenes make really engaging reading.

The author later dials up the intrigue and pace of the novel and you are pulled into the criminal underworld, leaving you cooking up possible summations and leaving conspiracy theorists frankly cooing with delight. This pacy novel serves up a delicious cocktail of intrigue, murder, and black humour. Personally I would have liked maybe more descriptions of an atmospheric London backdrop, darker urban undertones and an even thicker spread of conspiracy plotting. On a few fleeting occasions the plot line felt a little truncated near the end as Lipska slowly pieces the clues together. However she soon ratchets up the heat once more and gives a barnstormer of an ending that more than adequately delivers. This is a pitch-perfect novel which will have you turning the page in auto-mode. Something tells me that Lipska is set to become the poster-girl for great Polish crime fiction.

Where The Devil Cant Go: Author Anya Lipska. Published by The Friday Project

Where The Devil Cant Go: Anya Lipska