The Dreamers – Karen Thompson Walker

London, February 2019

Contagious diseases slow everything down.


In a Californian university, a female student falls asleep and doesn’t wake up. Over the next few weeks, the condition spreads through the university and into the wider town. The area is soon on lockdown with no one allowed in or out.


The epidemic is seen through a number of characters’ eyes – Mei, the roommate of the disease’s first patient. Mei is isolated from her hall mates, a gaggle of girls who party with a pack of boys, all of whom mourn and worry for the first sick student. Then there’s the two pre-teen sisters, Sara and Libby, with their apocalyptic-minded father who has long stacked the basement high with canned goods and decreed the home’s multiple cats and kittens will be killed when the time comes to live on the supplies.

Ben and Annie are fairly new arrivals to the town, their newborn daughter Grace a revival to their bruised relationship but becomes a source of instinctive angst when she may have been subjected to the disease via contaminated breast milk. All of the characters have their own stories in and around the disease but the lack of panic, despite the town’s panic state, made it difficult to worry too much about their individual fates. In fact I think my biggest concern was whether the cats would live.

The dreamiest aspect of the novel was the writing, the author’s style conjuring up the slow side of a contagion’s spread. I’d expected the story to focus on the dreams and for there to be a slumber based meeting point at which the diseased would understand something about the world by the dreams they were trapped inside but aside from a couple of pages right at the end of the novel, the stuff of dreams barely featured.


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