The Dreamersby Published 15 Jan 2019
A mesmerizing novel about a college town transformed by a strange illness that locks victims in a perpetual sleep and triggers life-altering dreams—by the bestselling author of The Age of Miracles, for fans of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.
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?
Written in gorgeous prose, The Dreamers is a breathtaking novel that startles and provokes, about the possibilities contained within a human life—in our waking days and, perhaps even more, in our dreams.
The Dreamers Reviews
I was excited to read this new novel about an unknown virus that claims its victims by putting them in a dream like state and spreading rapidly through a college town. I can see many readers falling in love with this book; unfortunately, I found the writing to be a bit too flowery and lyrical for my taste.
A fantastic buddy read with my friend Marialyce, this beautifully written book hit all the right notes with everything I love in a novel. The premise is not a new one but the story Thompson writes is unique and compelling. What makes this book different is the thoughtful nature of the writing, the dreamy quality, and the brilliant turns of phrases. This is not a horror/sci-fi/thriller, but a quiet character study.
A sleeping sickness strikes a quiet, fictional college town in California. It begins in a college dorm and initial attempts to contain the illness fail. The disease is determined to be airborne, and the entire town is quarantined. The different ways the residents deal with such a threat makes for riveting reading.
What makes this novel compelling are the characters, most notably:
A college freshman who is terribly unhappy and lonely but finds a friend/lover when they team up as volunteers.
Two motherless young girls who live with their doomsday prepper father who nonetheless failed to prepare for all potential scenarios.
A couple with a shaky marriage struggles to cope with the needs and demands of a newborn and the threat from the sickness
A young dreamer who unknowingly became pregnant the night before she was struck down and whose parents are sitting vigil at her bedside
A psychiatrist brought in from out of town to assist with studying the dreamers, who now finds herself quarantined away from her young daughter
The sleepers show unusually high brain activity than is considered normal, asleep or awake. Their brains are in a deep REM sleep stage. The strongest narratives in the novel are when we are given glimpses into the character’s lives, past and present, and into the minds of the victims as they dream. Some characters are more fully developed than others and I found myself caring deeply about what happened to them.
Eventually, some dreamers wake up and struggle with assimilating back into their regular lives. The past, present, and future are fluid and they (and we) are left pondering reality and the nature of time. Is there a thin line between dreams and reality? Is there fluidity of time: past, present and future? Are there alternate realities that exist out there in time and space?
The illness itself is not the focus of the novel and few answers are provided, which worked for me but may not for some readers. Some threads are left dangling. Even now, a couple days after finishing, I find myself thinking about it. I appreciated not being spoon fed by the author but allowing her readers to ponder the issues. This would make an excellent book club choice.
Highly recommended for fans of character-driven novels who are looking for something different and who do not require their endings to be neat and tidy.
• Many thanks to NetGalley, Random House, and the author for a digital copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
The Dreamers was a lyrical, beautifully immersive novel, taking the premise of an unknown virus spreading throughout an unsuspecting small town and within that exploring intriguing themes of time and memory.
It starts at a college, a girl goes to sleep and simply does not wake up. Like domino’s more fall, slowly spreading outwards – scientists, Doctors, specialists, arriving in droves but nobody knows what this sickness is or how to cure it. The one certain thing is that all these sleepers are busy dreaming…
Through the eyes of various town inhabitants, we watch this strange and unpredictable illness occur, see the town cut off, feel the low key panic, the helplessness and the worry. As the outside world watches, time is an elusive thing for these few, as it is it seems for those struck by the virus. It is a clever narrative, a fully formed character drama – the emphasis being very much on the human condition, how we distinguish dreams from reality, if indeed we can at all…and how we cope with untenable situations where resolution seems impossible.
I loved this because it ignored the usual trope of people fighting over scraps, hurting each other, but showed how we both isolate ourselves and come together in times of trauma. The differing personalities we meet give a snapshot of time, an enclosed event where only those in it can know it. The author gives outcomes but allows the reader to consider the possibilities – It is melancholy and thought provoking.
I loved it. A little dark delight.
In Santa Lora, California, a College Student, named Kara, falls into a deep dream filled sleep. No one can wake her. She is the first of many.
Mei was Kara’s roommate, she and several other survivors on Kara’s floor, including a teenager named Matthew, have been quarantined. Two sisters, Sara and Libby are left to fend for themselves after their father succumbs to sleep. Around town, there are armed guards, keeping the uninfected together in one place. Supermarkets are out of food and people are scared. The brain waves of the sick are highly unusual showing that the dreamers are in an active dream state and no one has any idea what it means.
My nerves were on high alert from the very first, my detective skills working overtime trying to figure out every possible scenario. Can you blame me? I mean, even though it sounds somewhat innocuous, this is still an illness I have no interest in catching.
Karen Thompson Walker’s “The Dreamers” is slow to build, but it immediately transfixes you. It is intriguing, lovely, lyrical and yes, a bit terrifying. It makes you think about the idea of community v confinement and which situation would help or hurt you most in a situation like this. “The Dreamers” also makes you ponder your dreams and what they mean. If you’ve ever had crazy dreams, this novel gives you food for thought!
This is a character driven novel: my heart lurched and my chest pounded and I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster. “The Dreamers” is quite different, it has a “sleepily” quality to it, if you will (ha ha), and it’s a highly satisfying, haunting read which I absolutely loved.
This was a buddy read with Ms. Kaceey! So so glad we read this one together!
Thank you to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group - Random House and Karen Thompson Walker for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Published on NetGalley, Goodreads and Twitter on 11.21.18.
The Dreamers is a wonderfully eerie and speculative novel about an epidemic that takes hold of a college town, in the form of a gentle disease which causes people to fall into a deep sleep that they cannot be woken from. As long as these individuals can receive medical care and be fed intravenously they are in no immediate danger, but the more people who fall prey to the highly contagious sickness, the more difficult it becomes to look after the sick.
This is a mesmerizing character-driven novel. Station Eleven is going to be brought up frequently in conversation with The Dreamers, and I know that comparing books to other books can get tedious but in this case it's with good reason. Emily St. John Mandel's influence can clearly be seen on the construction of The Dreamers, with its omniscient narration flitting between a panoply of characters who are all affected by the sickness all in different ways, their narratives occasionally intersecting but each with its own distinct arc. But Karen Thompson Walker's novel is not without its own unique spin - the disease is much more contained than the one that devastates civilization in Station Eleven, and consequently this isn't so much a survival novel as it is a novel interested in examining its central concept - sleeping, dreaming - through lenses of disparate psychologies and philosophies and sciences, which all come together to tell a story that's as thought-provoking as it is readable.
The only reason I'm dropping this to 4 stars is that there was a bit too much 'isn't childbirth miraculous aren't babies astonishing' in a few of the characters' narratives and it got to be a bit much for me, but that's strictly a personal preference. Everything else I adored. Karen Thompson Walker's writing is both assured and understated in the best possible way, and the way she builds tension is just spectacular. I could not put this book down.
Thank you to Netgalley, Random House, and Karen Thompson Walker for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.