The Dreamers – Karen Thompson Walker

I really enjoyed this book and I’m still not entirely sure why. I read until 3am and then continued as soon as I woke. I’m guessing it was partly because I found the writing so beautiful and partly because I find human behaviour fascinating and am always interested in seeing how people respond differently to similar circumstances.

It starts at the college. A student goes to sleep and cannot be woken. We follow a variety of people: college students, professors, medical professionals, new parents and preppers as they navigate the progression of a previously unknown illness that’s sweeping through their geographically isolated town.

I felt as though I was watching snapshots of peoples’ lives from a distance. Maybe it was because the narrative circled around so many different people or maybe I failed to make connections I should have but, while I found the writing beautiful in many places, I didn’t feel anything for the people whose lives were being so greatly affected. I liked some of the characters but wasn’t affected when their lives were turned upside down.

I also never felt the expected sense of urgency while I was reading. Perhaps this was intentional as the writing did have a dreamlike quality at times, although I’d been more prepared for a nightmarish feel. The narrative just seemed to waft over me and it read more like a series of character studies than the drama I had hoped for.

While I didn’t feel, I did think. I enjoyed pondering the nature of reality, consciousness, what it means to sleep and dream, how trees communicate with one another and various philosophical debates that reminded me of when I was at university. Thinking my way through this book seemed to help distract me from the fact that a lot less happens in this book than I’d expected.

I spent a lot of the book waiting to find out what the dreamers were dreaming and, while I did get some answers and there were some satisfying conclusions, I was also left with a bunch of unanswered questions. Some people who seemed integral to the story simply faded away without resolution. Rebecca’s story, which I was initially quite interested in, became tedious and annoyed me. Then there was the psychiatrist who I expected to add a lot to the story but didn’t really leave an impression on me.

I think what really kept me glued to the pages were the outcasts. I’m a sucker for people who for whatever reason just don’t fit in and this book had several that I loved. I could have easily done away with a few other characters to spend more time with Mei, Sara and Libby.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep – and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned. 

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her – even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams – but of what?