Dark, Twisted and an open invitation to the reader’s detective instincts – Fever Dream is a brilliant debut novel by Samanta Schweblin. The book has been translated from Spanish by Megan McDonald. It is already made the Man Booker long list and I am hoping that it makes it way to the shortlist. The opening pages of Fever Dream issues a challenge to the reader – make sense of the worms; Who is the woman in the clinic? Who is David? What is happening in the line of events? Make sense if you can.
Where Shweblin succeeds in Fever Dream is in her refusal to describe the ‘exact moment’ as David or the one who is perceived as him calls it. Throughout the feverish narrative where the narration of the main character can be called into question, the reader races through page after page to form their own conclusion about the exact nature of this moment.
This is the most important thing. This is everything we need to know.
What is the feeling now, exactly now?
It’s not important that I’m wet, too?
It’s not important, but it’s not what we need to understand. Amanda, this is the moment, don’t get distracted. We’re looking for the exact moment because we want to know how it starts.
Picture the book as a labyrinth if you will with the minotaur at the core of it. The repetition of this statement by David and his insistence of Amanda focusing and remembering the exact moment becomes the different circles of narrative emphasizing and at the same time concealing the unnamed horror that lurks at the centre of the narrative. Fever Dream can be called as an ‘enigmatic text’ which is ‘both luminous and shadowy”. It throws the reader spiralling into the story of Amanda and her limping recollection of events involving her daughter Nina and a woman called Carla.When the story started the reader is drawn by the lure of finding out about the worms. There is something macabre in the first few pages when Amanda and David are debating their potential harm. The atmosphere itself plays out like a dream. The narration of Amanda builds on that atmosphere as she tries to recall the events that have happened to her. There is also the question of David’s character – who exactly is this person? Is he the figment of Amanda’s imagination? As the narrative plays out, picking up pace and rushing towards the horror that we all want to know about, this dream element becomes even more intensified as David’s insistence increases and Amanda starts to move towards the comprehension of what has happened to her.
“It’s because sooner or later something terrible will happen.”
At the heart of the narrative is this idea – that something terrible has happened. Scweblin through the idea of ‘rescue distance’ brings forward the theme of motherhood that dominates the central thread of the novel. This is easily distinguishable especially in stark contrast to the feverish narrative of the unknown. Amanda’s mother like her grandmother has been transmitting this simple statement throughout her life – you need to be prepared for something terrible to happen. The connection between Amanda and her daughter Nina stands out in sharp relief in connection to the idea of rescue distance and the sense of impending doom. The bond between Nina and Amanda and David and Carla form the threads through which the reader can make sense of the events in the novel as well as to look for clues in order to understand Amanda’s conversation with David and where exactly is it headed.
Samanta Schweblin novel is an experience of entanglement as the reader stumbles deeply into the recesses of the story. It appeals to the reader’s desire to understand what is happening. David’s insistent nudging of Amanda becomes his nudging of the reader into figuring the ‘exact moment’ – the exact event that resides at the heart of Fever Dream. It’s a very subtle shift in the novel when David’s words move from looking for the exact moment to his statement of “you still need to understand”. When the narrative began there is an idea of recounting something might have happened to the idea of stopping the event to finally the point of realization and understanding. Through David’s words we get these changes and the changes in narration and its inevitable build up take their direction from his words. By limiting the number of character, Schweblin also deepens the sense of unease and vagueness. The minimalism of the story, of language and of characters becomes the driving force for the reader to be propelled the zero point – where everything hinges upon.
For me, Fever Dream is about possibilities. The reader comes from the story exhilarated, confused and slightly delirious. Then, she tries to make sense of the story – the possibilities of interpretation of the ending provided. Fever Dream combines this sense of dread and possibilities in order to leave the reader with even more questions than the ones he/she had had to begin with. Warning: this book is not for the faint hearted. It bewilders you as you entangle yourself in the narrative and when you come back from the eye of the storm you are possessed with a desire to go back in order to ascertain what other meanings can this novel hold. That is the strongest allure of Fever Dream – this need to go back just once more[if not more] for more enlightenment.