Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters - Gordon Dahlquist

It starts with a simple note. Roger Bascombe regretfully wishes to inform Celeste Temple that their engagement is forthwith terminated. Determined to find out why, Miss Temple takes the first step in a journey that will propel her into a dizzyingly seductive, utterly shocking world beyond her imagining – and set her on a collision course with a killer and a spy – in a bodice-ripping, action-packed roller coaster ride of suspense, betrayal and richly fevered dreams.


I learned, after getting about halfway through this double-volume monstrosity that the author of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters was actually a playwright, and suddenly things became much clearer for me. There is a very interesting aspect to this novel, and that is the importance of movement – characters walk along hallways, cross each other without acknowledging it, climb up stairs, ride on trains and carriages, hide behind couches and peek through spy-holes in the walls… The list can go on. These are not the kinds of artifices one is used to seeing in books – but they are very common in the theatre, where entries and exits, and the spectator knowing something the character on scene does not (like the fact that there is someone hiding in the closet) adds to the tension, or creates comedy. At first, the slightly long-winded nature of the book had been slightly off-putting. But suddenly, with this new information, I had a whole new layer of literary delight to explore. And I could just picture all the near-misses, the chases through mysterious, winding corridors, the fighting, the posturing, and the mysteriously satisfying trail of death.

Yes, I say trail because even though there is a certain lightness to the author’s style as the plot progresses in its meandering, leisurely pace, the tale is nothing if not dark – evil alliances, mind-control, murder, rape and cold-blooded experimentation. The whole interspersed with sweet tea, warm scones and cute little green boots (you’ll have to read the book to understand this particular allusion!). It is a strange and violent universe that is created here – it is London in the 19th century, in the midst of the industrial revolution, but also a bizarre and slightly surreal place, where time seems to stand still, and anything is possible. This London that is not London is strangely compelling – it is extremely easy to get lost in the different streets and establishments, the different levels of society to which each place cater, the colourful inhabitants of each locale.

The third thing of note is the strength of the characters. We follow three main characters – Miss Celeste Temple, the young heiress to a plantation fortune, Cardinal Chang, a scholar cum assassin and Abelard Svenson, a doctor who works as a spy. They are strong, well-developed, and believable. I wish there had been more interaction between the three – they do not meet until the fourth chapter and are quickly separated again – but I can’t argue that they are not engaging. The set of villains is also impressive – the mad scientist about to destroy the world with his creation, the femme fatale, unafraid to use all the guns in her arsenal to achieve her goals (in this instance world domination), and a long list of lackeys who have been brainwashed into thinking this plan is the grandest thing that could possibly happen.

This is not an easy book, and there are some obvious flaws – it is too long, certainly, and we are always waiting for it to get to the point already, but in the end, when you actually find yourself in the midst of the final confrontation, you discover the waiting was not so bad, after all.

Ps: I don’t know who edited this book, but the cover art is simply wonderful – totally caught my eye in the bookstore, and actually made me buy the book. I’m a sucker for pretty things!

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