Dream Space by Julie Armstrong. Book review

DREAM SPACE by Julie Armstrong, Matador, p/b, £7.99, http://www.troubador.co.uk

Reviewed by David Brzeski

I picked this up from the BFS review pile on the basis of the blurb. Frankly, had I gone by the uninspiring cover, I’d have immediately passed it by. It really looks like a vanity press book, which of course it is. Quite why the author decided to go with a vanity press outfit in preference to doing it herself via CreateSpace, or similar is beyond me. The same goes for her apparent decision to not bother with an ebook edition.

It is, in fact, very well written, which considering the author is a creative writing tutor should come as no big surprise. It’s an odd book. It falls firmly into the magical realism genre, which I’ve personally always regarded as the literary writer’s excuse for lowering themselves to the level of writing fantasy, but whatever…

It’s almost Lynchian in it’s weirdness, occasionally a little tedious, but once it gets going, quite engaging. Gabriel is living in a graveyard in Paris, which is due to be demolished to make way for a shopping mall. He designs a computer game for his hand held PC involving Collete, Edgar Degas, Vaslav Nijinsky, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde and himself, Gabriel Kamon. The game involves their search for a new resting place and Gabriel’s search for his real identity.

In Amsterdam, Eve is running from a brief relationship with Jim Morrison. Once the music of the Doors was put into my mind, I couldn’t help but hear, ‘People are Strange’, as the soundtrack in my head as I read the book. She’s travelling to Paris, but stops on the way to set up house with, Ruby, a single mother, new-age hippie type. They rent a place that gives Eve strong feelings of déjà vu. She dreams not of having visited the house before, but of actually having lived there in another life.

Despite the surreal skipping between alternate realities, the book is remarkably easy to read. That doesn’t mean it’s at all easy to follow. The reader is left to make of it what they will. It took me some time to get into it, but by the time I’d reached the end, I found myself genuinely wanting to read Julie Armstrong’s second book, ‘Mirror Cities’, which looks very much like it covers similar sort of ground. Maybe it will make things clearer.