Fever Dream: Man Booker International Prize 2017 

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.


  1. This does sound like a must read, and if the reviews are anything to go buy, should make the shortlist, excellent review, thank you.

  2. Where’s this one from? It does rather capture my attention, probably the first since Swallowing Mercury to do so so far.

    • Hi Max. I should have named the country: Argentina. I would say that this one and Swallowing Mercury are the most up your street from the longlisted titles I’ve read (and Compass, of course).

  3. it does sound unusual. whether i would enjoy it depends on how much of that ‘spirit’ element the book contains…. I’m very much a person grounded in the here and now

  4. Yes, this should definitely make the shortlist and must stand a chance of being the third female winner in a row.
    I also echo your feelings about short and sharp novels – these long ones are ageing me!

  5. Hi Grant. It’s interesting, because I feel that Fever Dream resembles The Vegetarian more than it resembles anything else on this year’s longlist. Could the judges award the Prize to something that’s so ‘out there’ in terms of the field they’ve chosen? I have to believe they might. Having said all that, if the MBIP gets a reputation as an award given to short and strange works by women writers, I wouldn’t see that as a bad thing. 🙂

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