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

The Good Children -Roopa Farooki The Review

roopaGloBooks  finds out whether The Good Children  really was a good read. 

I was fascinated by how they are created,” she said during a recent event for lucky readers at the London based Foreign Fiction Bookclub…. and this fascination underpins her sixth novel The Good Children.

But rather than focus this fascination on a modern-day Hitler or a Joseph Fritzl, Farooki looks for the evil in everyday life, peeling the facade that covers a supposedly happy society family in the midst of the heat of Lahore in post-partition Pakistan to reveal the ugly interior.

While riots rage around them and others wilt under the pressures of a demanding and repressive society, the Saddeq household comprising of a couple, four children and assorted servants, smile through this turbulent period in the history of the Indian subcontinent, albeit with gritted teeth.

Later, the eldest of the four children , Sulaman Saddeq, or Sully, is to become an expert on how evil spread through Nazi Germany and otherwise “normal” people ended up as accomplices to the slaughter of the country’s Jewish population.

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Roopa Farooki  was the Foreign  Fiction Bookclub`s Guest Author

But the real study begins much earlier in his life and that of his siblings.

The Good Children is told through the eyes of the two sons and two daughters of the household. But the central figure, the anti-protagonist, is their sociopath mother, who puts Grimm’s stepmother into the shade with the brutal manner in which she brings up her children and forces them into stereotypes of perfect children – the two boys are designed to be doctors, the two girls to be wives. Thus she becomes of a metaphor for that most callous of monsters – a repressive society.

The story charts the attempt of  each these four children to escape the clutches of the fate she has bestowed on them. But as Sully, the eldest son, finds out, physical distance alone does not banish her ghost.

The story begins with the four children in their teens. Mrs Saddeq is intent on projecting an image of the perfect family. So she trills over her husband’s every word and whips her sons and daughters into shape, forcing them into the stereotypes of perfect children: her sons are sent away to become doctors, her daughter to become good wives.

Perhaps the most compelling portion of the novel is a brief and thrilling few chapters where the eldest daughter Mae, denied her dream of being a doctor like the boys, rebels by playing the role set down for so well that she briefly threatens to take unseat her mother’s place at the head of the household. Eventually, the coup fails and there’s no physical escape for Mae, who stays behind as all three of the others make good their escape, Sully to the U.S. and Jakie to the U.K. where he is followed eventually by Lana.

The rest of the book comprises their adventures in these countries and how each of them come to terms with their upbringing, and it becomes much more about the clash of an old way of living and a new.

Jakie is possibly the most successful, his relationship with Irishman Frank, while far from perfect, allowing him to express his compassionate side and cure his wounds with love, enchantingly portrayed by Farooki.

An improbable adoption of an abused Indian maid and her son by this homosexual couple – surely a hard arrangement to square with society in the 1980s? – and his charitable work in Pakistan further helps him heal.

For the women, the road is a much harder one. Both are trapped by marriages, and yet they eventually do escape in their own ways, the perfidy of their husband’s serving as reasons to leave. Lana eventually follows Jackie to London and establishes a life there.

Even though the subject is a tough one, the book is throughout as compelling as any airport page-turner, and almost worth reading for Farooki’s gorgeous imagery alone. She uses violent images to describe the most domestic of tasks, constantly jarring the reader out of their complacency.

Amma beat us ferociously, as though it was exercise, and something that she needed to stretch and limber up for in advance. Like a local lawman in the villages, charged with administering a hundred lashes to a young rape victim for her adultery.”

For a book that evocatively describes the hardships and injustice women face in society, both in Pakistan and beyond, it’s a pity that she doesn’t spend more time on It is unfortunate, then, that she appears to lose interest in the female half of her set of protagonists, spending a majority of time describing the lives of Sully and Jackie and the various people they meet, Irishman being the most compelling of the side characters.

Lana, and particularly Mae, don’t get this sort of special treatment even though they are arguably the more interesting characters whilst growing up.

It’s easy to get tired of Sully’s morbid and flawed introspection, and the reader has to exercise a large slice of suspension of disbelief when reading about Jakie’s life.The overall impression is of a muscular giant of a book in the making that runs out of steam halfway through the journey.

Farooki’s decision not to delve into arguably the books most interesting character – the mother – except in the most cursory manner, is another point for debate. Given the understanding she shows to almost all the other characters, surely a few chapters exploring her backstop wouldn’t go amiss?

But perhaps the book is the more effective for it. Once dissected, the monster becomes pitiable rather than fascinating. And that fascination is what gives The Good Children its tremendous energy.

The Good Children  (416 pages ) Published by Tinder Press

2016-06-12 09.47.42Abhinav Ramnarayan is a Journalist and Foreign Fiction Blogger 

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The Good Children -Roopa Farooki The Review

Meatspace: The Novel by Nikesh Shukla

meatspace
A satire on the online generation

Meatspace defined as the physical world, as opposed to cyberspace is the second novel from author Nikesh Shukla; the writer behind Coconut Unlimited which was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award so certainly no dilettante when it comes to the realms of fiction writingHis second novel could be described as a satire and a poke in the eye for the  new social media generation. Its an exploration of the  excesses  of being 24-7 ” connected” through that modern day monster, we call social media and how it is increasingly becoming the currency for measuring one`s own popularity and defining the way we connect to people.

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Debut novel Coconut Unlimited

Novelist Kitab Balasubramanyam is a writer sandwiched in that hellish place between his first novel which suffered a  failure to launch and writing his follow-up. He is experiencing something of a second album syndrome as he tries to write his second book, grappling for inspiration from social media and becoming a serial tweeter in the process. He finds life has an annoying tendency of getting in the way as he tries to contend with the breakup with his girlfriend among other things.

Shukla really gave you a sense of what it must be like for a writer shuffling from day to day, listless, and searching for the illusive someone or something to be the lightening rod for his creative energy. The character just comes off the page and is so well drawn thanks to Shukla`s deftly constructed prose.

Nikesh Shukla
Nikesh Shukla

There are sections which read like a deliciously black (ish) style of comedy with  Kitab`s own day caught in a groundhog day. Shukla seems to tip his hat in appreciation to the comedy legend Tony Hancock. He beautifully  taps into this  Hancockian comedy-vein and there is more of the same in the form of his relationship with his father, giving us more comedy fodder.However Shukla seemed to momentarily  dangerously tread the fine line between character and caricature  but fleshes out his father`s character just enough to make you warm to him. We learn that his father is a widower who survived some dark years following the death of his wife and now  seems to be having a second wind in life. A serial dater with a penchant for attractive women  who seems to score more female attention and more Facebook likes(70% more just to add insult to injury) then his own son. His father   clearly seemed to be far more seasoned in the art of seduction then Kitab. His dad`s lion- heart courage and seize the day attitude left you wondering whether the  father and son were even  actually biologically related.

There is  a moment in the book when Shukla  unexpectedly receives an email from his Dad who usually leans more to texting. He finds a forwarded email from a woman  on a dating site declaring her intention to meet his son. The cringe  dial is turned right up when his father writes in bold “kitab son wen u free?!! Touching and cringing in equal measure. Infact  far from being a typical father he is atypical and not the least bit avuncular either.

Shukla illustrates the absurdity of social media and how  its all pervasive element seeps into  our daily lives; dictating  the way we engage with others with some light  comic touches. We are introduced to his online friend Cara who he rarely sees and lives just 45 minutes away. Yet she is annoyed that they missed their Skype dinner… yes you heard me !  Skype dinners ! and whilst they aren’t exactly separated by rough and uninhabitable jungles or terrains, the implicit rule is that they don`t meet up unless its on Skype.

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Sometimes even the best laid plans can get rumbled.

Rach is the ex- girlfriend  who occasionally gets a look-in. I personally  would have liked to have seen the character given much more page-time. It would have been interesting to have been given a first-person perspective or ring-side seat to viewing Kitab`s mad, bad and crazy world. Whilst she was apparently unfashionably unversed in the black art (to some) in managing social media and yearned for a simpler time before mobile phones, (the very antithesis of Kitab), she would have undoubtedly given the novel everyman appeal .

Shukla demonstrates he is not just about scoring laughs though and adds a layer of sensitivity to the story. There is a lovely literary motif in  the form of the left-over chutneys in a fridge, reminders of better times when they were both deliriously taken with coupledom.

We are eventually introduced to another central character in the form of Kitab2; Kitab`s own doppelganger who  finally catches up with him in person after a series of  Facebook friend requests. He is a living apparition, the  embodiment of everything nightmarish about social media all rolled into one, a sort of ghosts of all Facebooks past. Against his best efforts to unfriend ,unfollow, and block him, he soon realises that the situation is complicated. Kitab2 outstays his welcome and becomes a permanent fixture in Kitab`s life, desperately wanting to ape his own lifestyle, believing it will somehow allow him to be more successful with women.

There is of course Kitab`s brother Aziz who goes on a quest to find his own doppelganger  and chart his journey through his own blog entries which prove to be very popular, much to Kitab`s annoyance. Whilst lightly amusing, I thought  that it was an unnecessary distraction from a good story. It seemed that the character had been introduced for comedic effect only. However not to post a spoiler alert, his character does however become pivotal towards the end.

You might be forgiven for thinking it`s a  zeitgeist novel  but you would be mistaken. The book never aspires to be a all you wanted to know book or a looking- glass on the online generation. Instead Shukla delivers a novel that is more about the foibles of human nature, the bitter-sweet tragi-comedy, that is life and the vagaries of those signed up for life to the 140 character brigade. It also delivers  a cautionary tale of how  social media becomes the way we socially engage and the currency for measuring popularity as well.

Shukla demonstrates a wonderful eye for detail and gives you a warm, fuzzy at the edges story, guaranteed to have you laughing out loud at times and at others, nodding a knowing smile, over his acute observations of life, love, and everything between. Never soporific. Meatspace is a hard to put down read which will have you reaching for the next page and then the next until you dissapointingly finish.

Meatspace is published by The Friday Project.  Get it now at www.amazon.co.uk

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Meatspace: The Novel by Nikesh Shukla