Skip to content
The much anticipated sequel to Smith’s bestselling Autumn – labelled the first post-Brexit novel, certainly lives up to its predecessor, building on its themes and ideas but achieving a beautiful and cohesive novel in its own right.
Departing from the characters of Autumn we are introduced to Art and his mother Sophia. Both are trying to navigate the holiday season and through their actions we end up witnessing everyone’s worst nightmare of Christmas dinner – with unwanted family members, politics and disagreements rife around the table. Taking inspiration from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the book beautifully flits through the past, present and futures of the characters, though whether these are real imagined or perceived is up for debate, as the novel constantly explore what the concept of truth is and means.
While the politics involved in the first novel of the quartet was largely humanitarian in nature – concerned with the refugee crisis, Winter arguably packs more of a political punch, with overt scenes and excerpts which directly criticise and satirise the current American administration, and the behaviours of British politicians in the House of Commons. While sections such as these don’t directly relate to the central narrative they set important context for the world in which Art’s family is living. The tale is so wide-ranging and covers so many different themes and ideas, from the relationship between ‘art’ (as well as Art) and nature, truth and social media, mental illness, the concept of home and belonging, and identity. It is a novel that can be revisited many times over, be read differently and unpicked in different ways every time, particularly when the sequels emerge and possibly change it ever further.
The novel brings us the many different meanings of winter and while there is some discussion of death, and all the things in the world that can now be considered ‘dead’, this is not the sole representation of the season. In an optimistic twist, which few expected from a novel inspired by the events of late 2016 and early 2017, we see strangers connecting and characters learning about themselves through others. Smith reworks old stories and myths in a way that capture a sense of hope and positivity, yet which is not solely linked to Christmas spirit.
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), and translated by Megan McDowell (US), is a Man Booker International Prize 2017 nominee.
Fever Dream is more like a novella than a novel, but for its brief 151 pages it still packs a punch. The writing style is experimental and intriguing and it deals with some pretty big themes.
The novel opens with a women in the Emergency Room talking to a child although this is not immediately clear – the conversation allows their identities and the events that led to this moment. The style is unique, with the ‘child’s’ voice in italics, giving it an ethereal quality – making us question whether it is real.
It is difficult to review without giving away key details that make the novel so important, so here is as few spoilers as possible in looking at what the novel is about. The woman has taken her young daughter on holiday to a rental home where she meets Carla whose son was poisoned. This poisoning sets up a theme of environmental damage and also that of caring for children.
Schweblin evokes exactly the feeling that the title gives – like a feverish dream. The atmosphere is oppressive, with the interview-esque conversation being directed and redirected over small details. The nature of the conversation itself is a dream-like and as readers we constantly question the reality of it – is it a dream, can it really be occuring? Paired with the magical realism so popular in Latin American literature which the book employs, this truly makes the book feel illusive.
The book is uncomfortable and really makes you think and question about what you would do, or would be able to do in a similar situation. My only issue with the book was that it was so brief, I feel like perhaps it could have been fleshed out a little more to add dimension to the story. But it is also possible that the style would have been difficult to sustain over a longer book.
I very much enjoyed this book and I think it could be a real contender for the Man Booker International Prize.
I am reading Fever Dream with Book and Brew as one of the official Reading Groups for Everyone shadowing groups.