‘The Dreamers’ by Karen Thompson Walker ⭐⭐⭐.5

At first they blame the air.

It’s an old idea, a poison in the ether, a danger carried by the wind. A strange haze is seen drifting through the town that first night, the night the trouble begins. It arrives like weather, or like smoke, some say later, but no one can locate any fire. Some blame the drought which, for years, has been bleeding away the lake and drowning the air with dust. Whatever this is, it came over the town quitely: a sudden drowsiness, the closing of eyes. Most of the victims are found in their beds.

One night in an isolated college town south of the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her bedroom, falls asleep–and doesn’t wake up.

She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roomate cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry the girl away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital.

The second girl falls asleep, and a third, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads the town.

Gorgeously written, The Dreamers is a breathtaking novel, startling and provocative, about the possibilities contained within human life–in our waking days and, perhaps even more, in our dreams.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster UK Fiction, NetGalley and Karen Thompson Walker for the chance to read and review this novel.

“She looks like an ordinary girl sleeping an ordinary sleep.”

The town of Santa Lora, California is enveloped by a mysterious illness known as the “sleeping sickness”. It originates in a dorm in the town’s college when a freshman comes home and falls asleep on her bed still wearing the clothes she’d gone out in. When she’s still sleeping almost 24 hours later her roommate calls an ambulance and she’s taken to hospital where baffled doctors try to figure out why she won’t wake. Then, another girl won’t wake up and the doctor’s start to worry.

Rumours are soon abound and local journalists begin to report on the events. But people aren’t overly concerned, it seems to just be something happening at the college on one dorm floor, no need for panic. As a precaution the students on that floor are isolated and monitored while the other students are evacuated; an overreaction in their opinion. But then others start to fall asleep and can’t be stirred. Specialists are called in, and the sleep specialists confirms the sleepers are dreaming. But other than that the only thing they know for sure is it is highly contagious. They begin to monitor everyone possibly exposed but it does nothing to slow the spread of the sickness, and soon extreme measures are taken to try and isolate this strange affliction to the small town.

“But isn’t every sleep a  kind of isolation? When else are we so alone?”

When I started this book I was immediately enthralled by the poetic way in which it is written. The author has a distinctive style that is haunting, graceful, and breathtakingly beautiful. My mind was full of images of young ladies laid like Sleeping Beauty, but this time a Prince’s kiss couldn’t save them. The fascinating story was cryptic but in a way that made me want to read on and see where it would take me. I was invested in the people of this small town and eager to know what the sleeping sickness was, hoping a cure would be found before too many were affected.

Unfortunately, I found that as the book went on not only did the writing lose some of its magic, but the charm of the story faded a little too. Some of it was inevitable as we became more familiar with the illness and the characters, but it felt like the story wasn’t sure itself where it was heading anymore. I also felt like there was no real conclusion and I was left feeling dismayed that none of the things that were hinted at early on were included. You are left puzzling what you’ve read and there was a lot of philosophical references that influenced the direction it took. I wasn’t expecting these and think it made the story require more contemplation than my brain was able to handle at the time.

“Not everything that happens in a life can be digested…Some images never leave the mind.”

The Dreamers is a unique, mesmerising, enchanting, memorable book that can be abstract at times and has a serene air that rarely leaves, even though there is tension in the moments it is needed. The unsatisfying ending only meant a lower rating for me and I would still recommend this book, especially if you want to read something that’s completely different.

Out now.

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