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MBI 2019 Longlist: The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg

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Book Number 5 – read and rated by Book Worm.

Synopsis from Goodreads: In April 1988, Valerie Solanas – the writer, radical feminist and would-be assassin of Andy Warhol – was discovered dead in her hotel room, in a grimy corner of San Francisco. She was only 52; alone, penniless and surrounded by the typed pages of her last writings.

In The Faculty of Dreams, Sara Stridsberg revisits the hotel room where Solanas died, the courtroom where she was tried and convicted of attempting to murder Andy Warhol, the Georgia wastelands where she spent her childhood, and the mental hospitals where she was interned.

Through imagined conversations and monologues, reminiscences and rantings, Stridsberg reconstructs this most intriguing and enigmatic of women, articulating the thoughts and fears that she struggled to express in life and giving a powerful, heartbreaking voice to the writer of the infamous SCUM Manifesto.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I enjoyed the start of this book but felt that it tailed of towards the end. I did like the narrative style which switches between narration and conversation transcripts it also moves backwards and forwards in time and has an almost surreal dream like feel which is appropriate given the title.

From the start the author tells the reader this is not a biography and nor is it an accurate history of Solanas, while the key facts remain in tact (the SCUM Manifesto and the attempt on Andy Warhol’s life) it appears that most of the rest of the narrative uses very broad strokes to paint the picture of a life.

In terms of originality this felt a lot like Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates so I have marked it down on that, the writing is solid but for me it lacked the magical quality I look for when reading these kinds of lists. Character and plot are difficult to rate with this kind of story telling so I have given them middle of the road marks. I did enjoy this even though it was hard going at points.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 12/20 

Emily’s Thoughts: This was one of those impossible-to-review books where I still don’t know what I thought of it a few days after finishing it. I’m erring on the side of loving it, and definitely wanting it to make the shortlist, but I also found it profoundly disturbing and you couldn’t make me reread it if you paid me. It feels weird to root for a book that made me so uncomfortable reading it but it’s such an important, beautiful, original book that that’s where my thoughts have ended up.
The good: blindingly original, an important story about a woman who deserves to be discussed, with such beautiful writing I was highlighting and quoting almost every page. It’s easy for books this dark and experimental to feel like they’re just box ticking or pandering to literary magazines, but the experimental style felt natural and un-pretentious to me (that’ll probably divide opinion though). I admit I’m very much a fan of these oddly-structured nonlinear narratives. Valerie was one of the most complicated protagonists I’ve read in a long time.

The bad: I finished reading this on a night in on my own and my skin was just crawling so much I had to call someone to talk to because I didn’t want to be alone. That shows how powerful reading it was, but it also wasn’t always an enjoyable experience. The darkness was constantly on a knife edge of almost-too-much. A lot of the writing was ‘icky’ (for want of a better word).

Valerie’s feminism was thought-provoking and painful to read about as a feminist reader with endless sympathy for her, but who would never say or agree with a lot of the things she says.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 17/20 

Combined Ratings: 14.5/20

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Rankings:

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead 16.5/20
The Faculty of Dreams 14.5/20
Celestial Bodies 14/20
Four Soldiers 14/20
The Death of Murat Idrissi 10.5/20

 

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