Sunday, 24 October 2010

To sleep, perchance to dream...

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Ok, so maybe it is a rather predictable title for this post. But it was either this or "We are such stuff as dreams are made on" ("The Tempest" is one my favourite Shakespeare plays, which is why I almost picked the 2nd quote).

I am fascinated by dreams. I have Freud's "The Interpretation of Dreams" on my bookshelves as one of the many, many books that I have been meaning to read for ages. I have meant for a while to post something on dreams, and reading "The Manual of Detection" has taken me back to this subject.

I admit that I am one of those boring people who bangs on about their dreams, but I find it interesting to have that insight into how warped my mind actually is. Other people's dreams also fascinate me; I remember a friend at school relating to me an intricate, fantasy dream that took about 3 days of sporadic narration at break times to finish. Other people's dreams also help me to feel that I am not alone in being twisted and a bit mad.

I also admit to my dreams because they sometimes make me laugh, or just plain puzzle me. The best example of this is a dream I remember a few years ago, in which I was sitting, studying at a library desk when Barry Humphries came up to the desk and gave me a small, orange, jelly starfish sweet (no, not a chocolate starfish in case anyone is thinking that). Another more recent library dream had Stephen Fry searching for a book that would tell him how to make alcohol from prunes (and I thought that he already knew everything). I'm not sure what either of those mean, but I am proud that even my dreams take place in libraries.

I should say now that I don't believe in theories of dream symbolism in which dreams are predictive. I used to have dreams in which I saw bees quite frequently; this apparently means wealth, and that has never really come true.

I do believe in the more Freudian idea, however, that dreams are a way of processing events from your life and working through emotions. I have realised, for example, that when I feel swamped and don't feel like my life is under control, I have two recurring themes in my dreams. One is that I am going on holiday, or have an appointment, and I keep meeting problems that delay me - I usually wake up at the point where it becomes obvious that I am not going to make it. The other is overflowing water; most strikingly I remember a dream image of an overflowing toilet with goldfish swimming in it.

I am also aware of something odd, and I would love to know what this means. I have a clear memory of a dream when I was a teenager. It had a detailed narrative in which I was bait for a criminal - and both the criminal and the detective were David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. I remember having to climb an almost sheer wall of dry, shifting sand. But the most striking thing was that I end up in a vast garden, in three tiers, which is pure green hedges and grass - and by that I mean that there were no flowers at all; no colours but verdant green.

Has anyone any suggestions for what that might mean? I have noticed this again since - whenever I have a garden in one of my dreams, there are never any flowers. What on earth does that mean about me?

So this post is also your warning. If I have any odd or funny dreams, I might proceed to bore you with them. Sorry.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

"The Manual of Detection," by Jedediah Berry

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

This was a book that I had been intending to read for a while, and finally got around to. it wasn't what I was expecting - but in a good way. I had expected a conventional mystery, but got something a lot stranger.

The hero of Jedediah Berry's book is Charles Unwin. a seemingly unremarkable man who lives in a city somewhat like New York. He is a steady creature of habit, who deviates from his normal routine of cycling to work when he becomes obsessed with a woman who he sees waiting at Central Station. Then his work as a clerk at a shadowy detective agency is disrupted when the detective he is assigned to, Sivart, disappears and he is promoted to his place.

The book is a strange hybrid which somehow works. One of the reviews quoted in the book's promotional blurb compares it to Kafka, another compares it to a Sam Spade novel. I can see the point of both these comparisons, but I would also say that it has a sizeable splash of magic realism.

I think that I would recommend this book to anyone who saw and liked "Inception," as Jedediah Berry's book (which pre-dates "Inception") similarly plays with ideas of dream and reality. Jedediah Berry knows that dreams do not follow the same logic as waking life, which seems obvious, but he embellishes this theme with the realisation that "the world goes to shambles in the murky corners of night, and we trust a little bell to set it right again." But what if that trust is in vain...