Review: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

I requested this book on NetGalley, mainly because it had an endorsement from the author of Station Eleven, and because the premise of a virus that causes people to fall into an indefinite sleep sounded interesting.  I was a bit disappointed.  I liked many of the characters, including Ben, a new father, young Sara, and Mei, an isolated college student.  But I found all the “dreamy” language a bit tedious, and this story of an epidemic in a small town didn’t cover much new ground.

I also felt a lot of storylines were dropped or never explained, like the students who leave town and spread the virus at a highway rest stop.  If you’re looking for much on the science of epidemiology, you won’t find it in this book. This is a book that’s much more about philosophy and psychology – Thompson Walker explores ideas about consciousness and time, and what our dreams might mean.  Some of the sick have horrific nightmares, while some dream about idealized pasts and others dream about possible futures.

Because there are a lot of characters, it’s pretty hard to keep track of all the different people falling in and out of the illness.  The story changes narrators constantly, and some of them were harder to relate to, as we never get to know them very well, like the college professor and the pregnant girl.  I disliked the pregnancy storyline, because I felt the author could have raised a lot of really interesting issues instead of just going on and on about the wonder of creation.

The writing is beautiful at times, but the story felt very abstract.  I don’t mind there being confusion and uncertainty, but I found myself particularly intrigued by the details, like how the sleeping sick were cared for (basically feeding tubes and having their nails clipped) and what happens to people who fall ill while they are in the middle of something (like one character is trying to fix a leak and ends up with a house full of water).  I wanted more of those kinds of details, but the author has deliberately chosen an approach that is more hazy (dream-like you might say).

I didn’t read Thompson Walker’s first book, Age of Miracles, so I can’t compare this one.

Not really the book for me, but those less detail-oriented and more into philosophy will probably find this an enjoyable read.  I didn’t find it to be anything like Station Eleven, except in the sense that it’s a non-science-focused book about an apocalyptic event.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from NetGalley and publisher Random House.  The book publishes on January 15, 2019.

  4 comments for “Review: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

  1. January 11, 2019 at 7:45 am

    Great review! Mine will post next week, I think I enjoyed it a little more than you but you make some really good points about the tedious feeling of the story. I surprised myself by really liking the dream and consciousness philosophy but the writing did tend to start to feel repetitive in the second half of the book.

    • January 11, 2019 at 8:36 am

      I’m glad you liked it! It’s gotten raves from a lot of people, but the lack of specificity bothered me.

  2. January 21, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    Hmm—I had been toying with the idea of reading this one, mainly because I also find the premise intriguing, but I think I would find the haziness frustrating. Thanks for the honest review.

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