There are some books that upon opening make you wonder what is going on in this story. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin is definitely one of those books. It feels surreal, feverish and impossible to put down because every page offers a new mystery rather than a solution. It is a gripping story that reveals to us the intricacies of motherhood but also imposes a lot of questions on the reader in regards to boundaries and obsession.
The novel is structured as a dialogue between Amanda, a woman dying in a hospital bed, and David, a young boy who acts as an interviewer to Amanda. The opening of the novel immediately introduces the two characters and the reader begins to untangle the story of Amanda and David’s obsessive quest to find more about ‘the worms’. Every page gives the reader more and more information about Amanda and how she ended up dying in a rural hospital. Every question that David asks seems to drive the reader deeper and deeper into a mystery that makes our skin crawl.
Amanda is on a holiday with her daughter Nina. Upon arrival she meets David’s mother, Carla, who tells her own supernatural tale to Amanda. It seems David was poisoned as a child but thanks to the village’s healer he has survived but at a price. David’s spirit was split into two and one half is still within him living with a different, stranger half thus creating the David that we know, the interviewer. With the unfolding of Amanda’s story the reader learns more about David and his bad habits, killing and burying animals in the yard, Carla’s fear of her own son and Amanda’s unwilling participation in this family drama. The tension and the fear build up rapidly as Amanda keeps answering David’s questions and climax in the poisoning of both herself and her daughter Nina. And now Amanda must face the same dilemma that Carla had had in the past.
Fever Dream is like a hypnotist that lures you deeper and deeper into a slumber that turns into a nightmare. The fast pace of the storytelling aids with the building of the suspense and the reader cannot help but feel the fear and despair of Amanda. The novel focuses on two mothers and their relationship to their children. On the one hand is Carla, who has done the unthinkable and now has to live with the consequences. On the other hand is Amanda who is obsessed with the safety of her daughter, Nina.
Throughout Amanda’s story the reader learns that this obsession is passed down through generations of women, Amanda is just following into the footsteps of her own mother. Her ‘rescue distance’ is emphasized again and again in the novel and makes the reader question motherhood in its core. Amanda, as any other mother, is protective of her daughter but her constant insistence of the importance of the ‘rescue distance’ seem more and more ominous the closer we come to the end of the novel.
Another constant topic that Samanta Schweblin brings to the table is the idea of accepting the unknown. This can cause frustration with some readers but it is a big part of the book. David orchestrates the narrative through his questions so the reader learns only what David is interested in. A lot of questions are left unanswered. Like Amanda the reader never learns what the ‘worms’ are and never finds out the exact reason behind the mysterious poisonings. We never learn how the energy healer does her job or why the people still live in this forsaken village. These unknown facts create a lot of tension and build anticipation. However, at the same time it is a feverish novel, a novel that goes 100 miles per hour, a novel that scares us and it does so exactly through the use of ‘the unknown’. Fever Dream does mirror life in this aspect for we do have to accept the unknown at times and just keep on living without answers.
Samanta Schweblin certainly knows how to depict and play with human psyche making us doubt our deepest instinct. The novel heavily discusses motherhood, what it means to be a mother and how much is too much. It also makes us wonder how much mystery can we take in life, how much we can endure and adapt to until we succumb to this fever dream that we call life.
Fever World is available now, published by Oneworld.