No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

#16: The Dream Quake -- Elizabeth Knox

The Rainbow Opera is half a book. It creates a magical world similar, but markedly different to, our own: a world where Lazarus is a significant feature in religion / mythology, in which a country reminiscent of New Zealand was populated by refugees from an island that'd vanished beneath the waves ... and in which the Place, which occupies a small geographical area but is a polder, stretching many days' walk from either border, confers on those who can enter the ability to partake of location-specific dreams. A small percentage of those who can enter the Place -- like Laura, and her father and her aunt, but not like her beloved cousin Rose -- become dreamhunters who can replay the dreams afterwards, for an audience. At the climax of The Rainbow Opera, what was unleashed upon the aristocratic audience was not a gentle dream but a nightmare of being buried alive. And it was Laura's doing.

The Dream Quake picks up the pieces and knits them together. Why the Place sprang into being; whose dreams are being dreamt so powerfully; the nature of Laura's affinity with the place; all are explained, and come clear as part of the same story. Though it's not entirely Laura's story -- and, in a way that reminds me of Philip Pullman's female characters, Laura is a flawed and occasionally unlikeable protagonist, rather than one of the sweet-but-strong heroines who pervade YA fantasy.

Perhaps it's the story of Laura's golem, her sand-man (not to be confused with her friend Sandy, oh no!), as much as it's Laura's own tale. The story of the doggerel spell that Laura chanted to make him, and the letters that she inscribes on his body -- to give him free will, speech and self.

It's also the story of the original dreamer, and of the messages that are surfacing in telegrams and coded signals -- messages that weren't there when the telegram was sent.

It's the story of Lazarus, who died and lived again.

And the story of Rose, who may not be a dreamhunter, but nevertheless possesses a talent that her cousin lacks.

As Laura and her family try to make sense of the dreams, and simultaneously foil the repressively conservative plans of politician Cas Doran, a whole new future appears like a shadow overlaying the narrative of the book. It's not a nice future, but a desolate one: a future reminiscent of the American Depression ...

I got into trouble because people did, in the years when things were at their worst, with the bread lines and the men walking the roads looking for work.

Somewhere there's a shallow grave. Somewhere there's a bleak future. Somewhere, there's dreams that show not just the injustices, but the beauty of human life that injustice is a blasphemy against. Perhaps that future can be prevented: perhaps fate isn't immovable.

I keep finding more allusions -- is the earthquake a reference to the quake that levelled Napier in 1931? If I turn the map just so, does it mirror the actual geography of New Zealand? There are dreams mentioned, or mapped, but never described: what's in those? And what happens in the history of the dreamer?

Knox's prose is straightforward and plain, but with the most amazingly succinct poetry to it. Her teenaged girls are stroppy teenagers. Her characters make mistakes. I loved the scenario of The Rainbow Opera: The Dream Quake fulfils my hopes of the plot.


  1. Anonymous1:59 pm

    i just finished the book last night, it was amazing. i couldnt put it down. :)
    i was just wonering if you could clarify something for me? how does lazarus fit into the hame family? isnt he much older than all of them? and does rose marry lazarus?

  2. Anonymous10:21 pm

    Just finished Dreamquake - loved it. But I'm a little confused too. I really don't think Rose married Lazarus, he would be too old. Perhaps she married Sandy's brother? He was mentioned for a moment there. That was my main question - who did she marry? Also - didn't quite get what happened to Nown. Alternate universe perhaps?