Novel Review - The Dream Archipelago by Christopher Priest

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The Dream Archipelago

by Christopher Priest, 2009, 303 pages.
TLDR: 4 out of 5 stars for me, for great writing and creative, if disconcerting, stories.

This is a companion book to Priest's The Islanders which is absolutely one of my favourite books from the last few years and won a BSFA for best novel.

Where the Islanders is a literary guidebook to the wonderfully imagined Dream Archipelago (which also makes an appearance in a few of this other novels, particularly The Affirmation) with some short stories interlaced and interspersed among the descriptions of islands, The Dream Archipelago is a more straight forward book of short stories.

It's a little odd to use a term like 'straight forward' to describe this book, though. Most of the stories are anything but straight forward. Their links to one another are not straight forward, and their links to the short stories in the Islanders are not straight forward. But they will all at times challenge you, arouse you, confuse you, and enthrall you. And Priest is a wonderful writer, so it you are into writing you will find that pleasure here, too.

Though this book has similarities with The Islanders, I did not enjoy it quite as much. I really liked the guide-book aspect of the Islanders - the little geographic and cultural descriptions really appeal to the explorer in me (no so much my wife, by contrast). You can get a tiny sense of this from the introduction to The Dream Archipelago, but no more than that. I also preferred the stories in The Islanders to those in this book, though some of the ones here are quite excellent - in a creepy, sexy way.

And sex does feature much more prominently in this book, with sometimes quite florid descriptions of foreplay. In fact, my seven word summary might be: Anais Nin, with sharp teeth and thrymes.

Recommended, especially if read just after The Islanders.

I listened to the audio version, and the narration by Michael Maloney was superb. 4 out of 5 stars for me, for great writing and creative, if disconcerting, stories.

Comments

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    I'm still reading The Islanders, despite (or maybe because) of taking it incredibly slowly. I started it near the beginning of the year, and still haven't finished. I might be missing some of the connections between things that way, but most of it is still coming across (for example, the multiple perspectives on the case of the murdered mime artist).

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    @dr_mitch Slow because you aren't really enjoying it, or slow because that's how you want to read it? Me, I thought it was amazing. My wife didn't care for it that much - she read most of it but never quite finished.

    I'd still love to do this as a club pick sometime, but perhaps, like Invisible Cities, it would fall a bit flat with everyone else.

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    @Apocryphal I didn't start reading it intending to take it so slowly, but after a while I found it the way I enjoyed it most. Lots of tasters, an island at a time, rather than trying to devour it.

    I'm enjoying it. A comparison to Invisible Cities is obviously apt, but The Islanders is a more traditional read, with much more of a story (or sometimes interconnected short stories), and also much more useful for RPG world building. Invisible Cities was closer to poetry, and sparked something different. It's one of those books I enjoyed, and I'm glad I read, and would never have read were it not for the Book Club.

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