The Anatomy of Dreams

The Anatomy of Dreams: A Novel - Chloe Benjamin

(I got this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

I liked the concepts in this book, but found the execution wanting.

The story bounces between a few time periods, allowing us to see what's happening in two "levels of present" (the first one being Madison, where Sylvie and Gave meet Janna and Thom) and two "levels of past" (high school time, then the beginning of Sylvie's involvement in Keller's research). I'm mentioning this because it can be a potential deterrent to some readers. As far as I'm concerned, it's a kind of narrative style I tend to enjoy, and since I had no problems following it and piecing things together, I'm putting it in my "I like it" category. There was just one part, though, towards the last third, where I felt that it wasn't handled that well. Too bad.

My feelings when it comes to the characters remain lukewarm. The story's entirely told from Sylvie's point of view, but in the end, I'm not sure I got to "know" her. Same with Gabe and Keller, perhaps even worse. They all seemed to be here for the plot, and not as full-fledged people. Granted, their research consumed a lot of their life during the course of the novel, yet I think I would've felt Sylvie's plight much more if I could have related to her as to a "real" person (no need for she and I to have anything in common: just more character development in general). There's her painting, but what about Gabe's occupations? Was there only work here? What about Janna, who was definitely in a good position to notice what was going on? There would have been more to tell about them all, and the lack of such information, in the end, diminished in my opinion the ethical questions surrounding Keller's research, as well as the degree to which each of them was influenced by the experiments.

To be honest, I was probably waiting for something different, something more linked to the theme of lucid dreaming: Sylvie really not knowing what was real and what wasn't, for instance, or other people displaying such characteristics. The blurb was in fact more exciting than the story itself, all the more because I'm always eager to read anything that has to do with dreams, nightmares, and blurred reality boundaries. The story showed one patient being submitted to the experiment, and spoke of another one whose actions might or might not have been a direct result of Keller's study. There was a lot of potential here for dilemmas of various kinds; however, the characters often danced around the issues, only confronted them now and then, and I found this slightly frustrating.

On the plus side, the writing style itself was pleasant enough, beautiful while remaining believable for a first person point of view narrative.(less)