Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream (2017)
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
While thinking over my preferences recently, I realised that many of my favourite novels could be described as ‘short and sharp (or strange, or strong)’. Fever Dream is a good example.
The novel takes place in a hospital (or maybe the liminal space behind closed eyes), where Amanda is dying. She talks to a boy named David, who urges her to remember what happened to bring her here.
Amanda recalls a conversation with Carla, who is the neighbour of her holiday home and also David’s mother. Carla tells Amanda how her son once drank poisoned river water; she took David to the “woman in the green house”, who performed a ritual to send half of David’s spirit to a new body, thereby diluting the poison.
Amanda’s conversation with David is a blur of Carla’s tale and her own memories, coloured by Amanda’s concerns for her daughter Nina (whom she likes to keep well within “rescue distance”). David keeps interjecting, encouraging Amanda to focus on what’s “important” as she sorts through her (real? imagined?) recollections.
As a result of all this, Fever Dream is a deeply unstable text: you never know whether what you’re reading will fall away to reveal another layer of reality beneath. David’s interruptions prevent Amanda from settling into an easy groove of narration. She becomes a participant like the reader, uncovering the novel as she goes. That process is a powerful reading experience.
Should this book reach the MBIP shortlist?
Yes, without a doubt. Fever Dream is my favourite of the books that I’ve read so far; it’s a potential winner as far as I’m concerned.