Fever Dream was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017, it is a complex, and almost surreal story, which leaves you with more questions than it gives you answers. The multi-layered nature of this story (a story, within a story, within a story) makes it tricky to jump into its depths at first, especially when we are being told of Carla recounting a tale to Amanda; but after a while you get used to the disorienting intertwined narratives, all told from the perspective of Amanda’s internal dialogue.
It is important to note that without any background context, it may be difficult to garner any sense of what is going on with the characters of this story, so to clarify, from around the early 2000s, many tragedies began arising in Argentina due to the pesticide used in the cultivation of genetically modified soy – “including high rates of birth defects as well as infertility, stillbirths, miscarriages, and cancers. Environmental effects include killed food crops and livestock and streams strewn with dead fish.” As I read the book with this knowledge in mind, it helped me to put the pieces together and form my own conclusion as to what is really happening within this book.
Some of them were born already poisoned, from something their mothers breathed in the air, or ate or touched. ~ p. 124
Now, to my more in-depth analysis. Spoilers ahead…
In my opinion the italicised voice, which we first believe to be David, is Amanda’s inner subconscious – her second voice so to speak. He answers almost as Amanda throughout, and as the story progresses, becomes Amanda, going on to finish off her retelling of the events which led to her present predicament. The more I read on, the more I truly believed that both voices were her, so that we the reader is left with numerous versions of the ‘I’ – the reader as the spectator, watching the whole story unravel, the reader as Amanda, the first person internal dialogue making you feel as if you are in Amanda’s head, Amanda herself, Amanda as David, David, and Carla’s story as transmitted through Amanda. The David voice is perhaps a way to evade the truth, a form of escapism, which in the end does help Amanda, and thus the reader, to finally attain the truth, the completion of the story; his italicised voice disappears when Amanda’s does.
This variety of voices contributes to the book’s very nightmarish dream-like feel, which becomes more evident at the very end, as Amanda approaches death and her ‘symptoms’ intensify, to the point where her present and past all merge into one, and we get a sense of rocking back and forth in her memory as she attempts to replay these in her hallucinatory state.
I’m confused, I’m mixing up times. ~ p. 87
It is unclear whether the events outlined in the story are a compete figment of Amanda’s imagination or bits of reality placed into a dream setting, emphasised by her sickened state. Did she ever have a daughter called Nina? What happened to Nina? I concluded that Nina, like Amanda, had also died, something highlighted by the fact that Nina is soaked with the same “poison” water as her mother, and the epilogue-like story at the end, when Amanda’s husband goes to question Carla’s husband about the disease that plagued his wife and daughter. I believe that the ‘waiting room’ in the story is a metaphysical waiting room, a kind of limbo for all those affected by the disease, their names written on the wall like a memorial plaque.
A key point which I was aware of is that many of the names on this wall were written “by one of the nurses. The people whose names they are, they can’t write, almost none of them can” (p. 100). This suggests that many of those affected by the disease in the book are illiterate, they come from rural families, mostly the poor. This is emphasised by the fact that Amanda, who comes from the city and can afford to go on vacation, had no knowledge of this disease, whilst Carla was very aware of it. This distinction is also underlined by the fact that Carla believes in folk medicine and in the power of ‘the woman in the green house’ to heal, while Amanda, probably more educated, is sceptical.
Aside from the surrealist nature of Fever Dream, another key theme within is the mother and child bond. Throughout the book, Amanda is conscious of how far she is from her daughter at all times, we could even argue that she is obsessed with the fact, something highlighted by the original Spanish title of this book ‘Distancia de Rescate’ (the rescue distance). Amanda is hyper-aware of all potential dangers which may harm her daughter and where her young daughter is at all times, the metaphorical rope tensing if Nina should move away from the distance of possible rescue. However, the one thing Amanda cannot avoid, and the thing she fails to notice, is disease and death, something indiscriminate which despite all the care and worry in the world, affects us all; it is the one thing she cannot protect her daughter from – nature itself.
Overall I believe the book to be though-provoking in that it creates empathy for the characters and events of the story, while remaining surrealist and completely open to interpretation, which in my opinion means that every reader will have a completely different experience of this book. I recommend that everyone who gets the chance should read it, especially as it is a quick read (it is only 150 or so pages long) so that you may make up your own conclusion as well as inform yourself on the terrible effects that GMOs are having in the world, and in Argentina in this particular case.
If you have any understanding of Spanish, I recommend watching this video; a very interesting interview about the book with the author, Samanta Schweblin.