Lyrical and beguiling, The Dreamers is a deeply immersive novel about a community in peril, collective hysteria, and the moral, emotional, individual and group choices we make when our lives, and those of our loved ones, are in danger.
There are scenes in The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (Scribner £14.99), the author of the bestselling The Age of Miracles, that unfold like a surrealist film sequence. One morning in a college town in California, a student falls into bed, then fails to wake up fully. Soon, others fall prey to this sleeping sickness, which seems to suspend victims in a dream state. The town is quarantined; anarchy threatens. Told through a panoply of characters, Walker’s speculative fiction is often atmospheric and occasionally uncanny, but is too episodic and insufficiently rousing.
Walker needs to keep the plots of her novels spinning, like plates on sticks. When the action slows, you realize what a limited and sentimental novelist she too often is.
“The Dreamers” introduces us to many characters, nearly all of them exceedingly nice... Walker knows what to do when she’s sinking her initial hooks into her readers. But she’s such a mild writer here that a true sense of menace is never allowed to bloom.