“Maybe this quietude—these small, daily pleasures—could be enough.”
Chloe Benjamin’s novel, The Anatomy of Dreams, begins at a boarding school where we meet the primary characters Sylvie and Gabe, who are dating. Throughout the early stages, Gabe confuses Sylvie with dodgy behavior and mysterious vanishings. He sneaks out of her room in the middle of the night and stirs a fascination in Sylvie with the headmaster of the school, a psychologist named Mr. Keller. Shortly after, Gabe disappears without a trace.
Sylvie is left with confusing feelings and perplexing questions. The reader is also left with confusion. It’s very unclear how much of Sylvie’s uneasiness owes to ordinary teenage trouble and how much to a deeper and potential mystery.
The uncertainty lingers through much of the book, which leans toward a thriller of sorts, but never fully commits. The focus shifts to a more methodical study of dreams and the psychology behind them.
The narrative skips around in time allowing hints and delayed revelations. Keller is involved in less than conventional research and Gabe is his apprentice. The two men have devised a plan to recruit Sylvie for their experiments, which are investigations into sleep disorders.
Keller hopes that by teaching his patients how to lucid dream, he can cure their disorders by helping them gain control of the devils in their unconscious minds.
The result, as one would expect, is that digging too deep unleashes horrors to the conscious mind. But does it?
Benjamin is a master of beautiful writing and I love the aspects of psychology and dream discussions, but the plot and character development fell flat. It felt as though the potential for a more dark narrative was always on the brink.
“If human beings vanished, and so did our consciousness of the world—our inventories of plants and insects and endangered birds, our ability to predict weather patterns and measure whole populations—would the planet still know itself? Or would it be better off without our predictions and the ways we made them come true?”
The novel reads almost as an old-fashioned horror story with a contemporary twist. Not to say there isn’t any drama: As Sylvie pursues her work with Gabe and Keller, she becomes entangled in slight plot twists. There are midnight escapades, terrible conspiracies, a love triangle, and even a murder.
Throughout the shocks of life, Sylvie contemplates more practical questions. As in the every day worries that most of us encounter such as picking the right career and what on earth is she doing with her life.
I do wish Benjamin’s story would have delved more into the eerie premise instead of a level headed approach.
That being said, Benjamin’s first novel was incredibly inventive. The story idea was unlike any I had read before. For that I believe this is a fantastic book, along with her incredible descriptive writing. I fell in love with her writing in her sophomore novel, The Immortalists. Once I discovered her first novel, I knew I needed to give it a shot. I’m certainly glad I did.