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[Saturday Reads – #LitWorld2018GB] Recently Published Novels Suffused With Aching Beauty And Remembered Pain

"Fever Dream" by Samanta Schweblin and "Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje.

SaturdayReads

Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

I read these two novels a few weeks back: Warlight as part of my online book group, and Fever Dream for my #LitWorld2018GB (Literary Voyage Around The World) choice (Argentina). Both novels have an aching beauty to them with tastes of remembered pain and, yes, fevered dreams.


Fever Dream

Written by Samanta Schweblin
Published by Riverhead Books (2017)
ISBN: 0399184597 (ISBN13: 9780399184598)
Original Title: Distancia de rescate  Literary Awards: Shirley Jackson Award for Novella (2017), Premio Tigre Juan (2015), The Rooster – The Morning News Tournament of Books (2018), Man Booker International Prize Nominee for Shortlist (2017), Warwick Prize for Women in Translation Nominee for Longlist (2017)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book quotes laid out using Typorama.

This is a fairly short book that can be finished in one reading. It is a tightly-wound thriller that builds up, gradually in the beginning, then unspooling mercilessly in the end, until the reader feels a choking sensation in her throat, unable to breathe with anxiety. There is Amanda, a woman lying in a hospital bed, ostensibly dying. There is also a young boy named David, whispering next to her, not her child – possessed with an intimate knowledge of Amanda’s nebulous past, her burning present, and her damned future.

I wanted to like this more than I actually did. I appreciated the fast-paced narrative, its surreal dream-like quality that made me question which is real, and which one manufactured from the heightened awareness of one drugged from pain, from a truth that needs to be dampened by doses of intoxication for it to remain bearable. Yet, I felt disconnected from the narrative. I had to re-read several lines repeatedly for me to develop some kind of response to it. Not that it didn’t make sense, because in its peculiar way, it did. Yet, the more that I feel it trying to lure me in, the more I felt myself taking several steps back – distancing myself from the pulsating ache, the quiet terror, the utter despair of the helpless.

It was only upon reading a Litsy friend’s (Subashini) review on Goodreads that I realized there were quite a lot of subtexts that I didn’t know were there in the first place. Apparently, there is a much larger societal issue in which the entire narrative is framed that was totally lost on me. I am not sure whether this knowledge, prior to my reading of the book, would have changed the sense of unreality I felt and my switching myself off from the story itself, but I suspect that it wouldn’t have.

Amidst the increasing horror, however, is the peripheral mention of beauty, of gold bikini, of cold iced tea, of a red dress, and golden sandals. Even as the world collapses around you, find beauty.


Warlight

Written by Michael Ondaatje
Published by Jonathan Cape (2018)
ISBN: 1787330729 (ISBN13: 9781787330726)
Literary Award: Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2018)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library.

This is my first Ondaatje novel, and it will definitely not be my last. While the previous novel filled me with dread, this one filled me with light. And longing. And resolve.

There were wisps of remembered pain told with a storyteller’s voice that is compelling, lyrical, and comforting. As a reader, I know that I am being led somewhere beautiful, that the dark spaces will be illuminated, and that longing while filled with throbbing ache, is as it should be.

Without revealing anything of the plot, this is essentially a young man’s attempt at reconstructing his childhood, making sense of the abandonment he experienced as a child, and his efforts to discover the woman that his mother was – separate from his father.

While he and his older sister did not grow up with their parents, there was another woman whose intellect, compassion, and attention made them feel seen. She was the one who stood out the most for me throughout the novel.

It is a coming-of-age story, a lyrical tribute to a turbulent childhood made magical by unforgettable characters who are resourceful, fearless, and lived by their own set of rules. I think part of what made me resonate with this story is that unapologetic commitment to living one’s life the best way one knows how – regardless of the fragments left behind, notwithstanding the unopened trunk of clothes that went nowhere.

Ultimately, we are drawn to that which reflects how we see ourselves, or that which we wish to become. And this ‘half-finished verse of an old ballad’ sung by Ondaatje  trills unceremoniously in my veins, leaving its imprint there. One of my best reads this year.


#LitWorld2018GB Update: Argentina (setting and country of residence of author of Fever Dream) and UK (setting of Warlight)

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