Dream Sequence by Adam Foulds

Published by Jonathan Cape

It’s sometimes fun to wonder, to daydream, as a bit of escapism, what your favourite actors or musicians or writers, or celebrities in general are doing right at the same moment as you are watching them on a pre-recorded show on TV. Or even putting out the bins, or putting most of a slaved-over plate of fish fingers in the compost after a child having a temper tantrum has refused to touch it. These people who we grow attached to, idolise, are at such a remove that they aren’t even flesh and blood to us anymore, but rather a collection of millions of pixels that exist solely for our entertainment, to troll with cruel comments on the internet, to become fixated on with an intensity that would never be acceptable if it was a neighbour or friend.

Dream Sequence begins in LA, when newly divorced Kristen is falling in to a well-disguised crazed delusion of her own construction. She has convinced herself that the star of her favourite British aristo-soap (think Downton Abbey) is her soulmate, following a meeting in an airport some time before that may or may not have actually happened. Various signs and barely-there coincidences further convince her that this love connection is true, and the epiphany of a morning yoga session is the final push towards orchestrating a connection for real.

Much of the rest of the narrative is then given over to Kristen’s love object, the actor Henry, who is eager to shed his stiff-upper-lip image and move into serious, prestigious Hollywood art movies. Henry is by far the more interesting and believable character, an actor who is filled with the vanity and narcissism of the trade, fuelled by that typical thespian quality of insecurity and self-destruction.

I picked up this book on the recommendation of another book review, so rest assured there are positive ones out there – it’s just that this isn’t one of them, exactly. While there are some really very nice turns of phrase here and there, and some astute and considered observations, the plot is just not strong enough, the two inter-linking stories never quite coming together with the poignancy the author intended.

The concept is interesting and thought provoking; that of a man going about his business from day to day, who happens to be a successful actor in the public eye, completely unaware that there is a woman out there at the other side of the world who is utterly obsessed with him. Of course this is par for the course for any TV personality on many different levels – how often do you find yourself discussing the lives of Brad and Jen or the performance of overrated Oscar nominated actors with the heightened language afforded to those you know but really don’t know, ‘loving’ someone, ‘hating’ another and having opinions about them that can never actually be fully informed? Kristen is on another level, but curiously doesn’t seem dangerous – she’s just taken her obsession and normalised it, sure in her heart that once they meet her life will once more be worth living.

While Kristen is plotting her trip to London to take in Henry’s Hamlet, he is preparing for the role of a lifetime in a Spanish auteur’s next film, after flogging another, lesser movie at a film festival in the middle east. This is where author Adam Foulds shows his fine talent for observation, when Henry takes in how utterly foreign this country is, how different it is to his comfort zone of England and how it adapts itself to the gauche Western stars it’s hosting. Foulds does the same with Kristen, when she makes her trip to England he doesn’t sugar coat it in Beef Eaters and bulldogs, but paints a very real picture of pubs and poky hotels.

Dream Sequence certainly has its moments, but they never come to anything. There isn’t so much a build up to a climax as a rushed remembrance that something has to finish off the story, and it feels at odds with the rest of the tone, somehow. Kristen is a conundrum of a character that never quite rings true. I feel like omitting her from the story completely, or at least reducing her part significantly, would have left more room for Henry’s to be further explored. It seems like a book that never quite figures out what it wants to be, which is as frustrating in a narrative as it is in a dream that you can’t wake up from.

First published in The Tuam Herald on Wednesday, March 6th

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