Sara Stridsberg, The Faculty of Dreams (2006)
Translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner (2019)
Well, this turned out to be my favourite book from the Man Booker International Prize longlist. It’s inspired by the life of Valerie Solanas (1936-88), who wrote the SCUM Manifesto and, in 1968, shot Andy Warhol. This is not, however, a fictionalised biography: Stridsberg describes it as a “literary fantasy”, playing fast and loose with even the known facts of Solanas’ life. For example, in real life, Solanas was born in the New Jersey city of Ventnor; in The Faculty of Dreams, she’s born in the desert town of ‘Ventor’ in Georgia – even the desert is fictional.
The narrative focus switches back and forth between different periods of Solanas’ life, up to the point where she lies dying in a San Francisco hotel room; here, the narrator will often speak directly with Valerie, in the form of a transcript. Stridsberg’s writing, in Bragan-Turner’s translation, is often invigorating to read. Here, for example, is a passage from near the beginning, looking back on Solanas’ life from her death bed:
And if you did not have to die, you would be Valerie again in your silver coat and Valerie again with your handbag full of manuscripts and your building blocks of theory. And if you did not have to die now, your doctorate would shimmer on the horizon. And it would be that time again, the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, Ventor, Maryland, New York and that belief in yourself: the writer, the scientist, me. The great hunger and swirling vortex in your heart, the conviction.
The effect of building a bespoke version of Solanas’ life in the novel is to keep the central questions of that life unresolved. It helps maintain a heightened sense of reality that runs throughout The Faculty of Dreams and makes the book all the more compelling.
The Faculty of Dreams (2006) by Sara Stridsberg, tr. Deborah Bragan-Turner (2019), MacLehose Press, 340 pages, paperback.
Read my other posts on the 2019 Man Booker International Prize here.