Monday, May 13, 2019

Book Review: "The Book of Dreams" by Nina George

Powerful, moving, and poetic, Nina George's newest novel, The Book of Dreams, is absolutely exquisite. It's so different from other books I've read recently, and it is one I won't soon forget.

"Maybe we're all stories that someone is reading, and maybe that will save us before we ultimately expire?"

Henri Skinner was once a renowned war reporter whose eyes have seen first-hand the horrors of our world. Shaped by tragedy at an early age, he is a passionate person, one prone to acting before he thinks. On his way to see his teenage son for the first time since he was an infant, he performs a heroic act, only to be struck by a car afterward. He now lies deep in a coma, hearing the voices of those he loves but also reliving his life's memories, as well as exploring the paths not taken.

Sam, Henri's son, is a highly intellectual synesthete (he sees sounds as colors and numbers as sounds) who has dreamed of having his father in his life for as long as he can remember, only to be told by his mother that his father wasn't the type to depend on. When he learns of his father's accident he begins a daily vigil at Henri's bedside. Even though the doctors say they see no sign of Henri's sensing what is going on around him, Sam believes his father hasn't given up yet, and implores him to return to consciousness.

While at the hospital, Sam meets Eddie Tomlin, a woman who was once deeply in love with Henri until he cruelly hurt her. She's moved on with her life but Henri had named her the executor of his living will, so she now must confront her feelings for this man to whom she once gave her entire heart. Eddie isn't sure if she wants Henri to awaken or if she is ready to say goodbye once and for all.

Another patient at the hospital is 12-year-old Madelyn, who has been in a coma since she was in a car accident that killed her entire family. Even though she cannot communicate, does not give any sign that she hears or feels or sees, the hospital continues to treat her, this poor young girl without anyone to look after her. Sam is taken with Maddie, and does everything he can to try and help her back to consciousness, as he tries to do the same for his father.

"There are places where time is thinner, where yesterday, today, and tomorrow converge and we can feel the presence of the dead and the echo of the future."

The Book of Dreams is about the thin line between life and death, of how keeping a person alive is often more for ourselves than the actual person. It's a book about love—both its presence and its absence—and how both can consume you. But more than that, this is a book about relationships, about finding the courage to act, to say the things you've always wanted, to never let regret occupy your mind.

This book is gorgeously written, brimming with vivid imagery and emotion. At times it gets a little confusing, as you're not sure what has happened and what is being dreamed, but the power of this book overcame any of its flaws where I was concerned. In a few days it will be five years since my father died suddenly, and this book, felt a bit like a gift for me, despite how difficult it was to read at times.

I haven't read any of George's other books, but she said in her afterword that her last three novels, The Little Paris Bookshop, The Little French Bistro, and this one form a cycle of novels about mortality and are colored by existential questions about death. I'm definitely going to have to pick her other books up, because this really touched me. It was both a beautifully written and a beautifully felt book.

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