Friday, 24 May 2013

Undreamed by Paul Western-Pittard

***SBRs 9th Best Read for 2013***

Publication date: 5th September 2012
Published by: Self-published
Genre: Psychological Thriller (Adult)

When I came across Undreamed and read the synopsis I knew instantly that I wanted to read and review it. As you can see, I certainly have a lot to say about it. (This may well be my longest review to date!)

The novel starts with a young woman in a New York night club. Her name is Alice and she has green eyes.  The first chapter gives you a real insight into Alice’s character.  She clearly likes to flirt with danger and she is reckless, to the point that putting herself in danger is not a major concern to her.  Events lead to an altercation with a couple that causes her to run out of the club into the street where it is snowing.  For reasons I won’t go into she has a deep cut on the palm of her hand.  By the end of the chapter Alice has gone to sleep.  

When Alice wakes up she is somewhere else.  It is morning and the sun is shining.  It is summer and there is a heat-wave.  She glances at herself in the mirror and her eyes are blue.  There is no cut on her hand.  None of this is a shock to her because Alice knows where she is; at home in Sydney, Australia, where she lives with her sister, Jen.  

When Alice is asleep in New York she is awake in Sydney living this other life, and vice-versa.  She knows one of her lives is real and the other is a dream.  What she does not know is which life is the dream …

This novel reads very well. The plot is well thought out with lots of twists and turns.  It really does keep you guessing and there was so much I liked about it. 

Each character seems to represent a different side to Alice.  It is clear that Real-Alice (whoever she may be) is traumatised and is suffering these dreams as a result. NY-Alice is her angry, frustrated, dark side and these characteristics manifest themselves through her reckless behaviour.  She is a borderline junkie who self-harms.  She is the unsympathetic side: ruthless in her treatment of those around her and showing little remorse for her behaviour.  She is a fighter and regards Sydney-Alice with contempt.  Sydney-Alice is her opposite.  She appears confused and, to some extent, helpless. She is a psychiatric patient who is trying to put her life back together but is haunted by her dreams.  She is the sympathetic side: although passive, she is also inquisitive and is determined to get to the bottom of things.  Although she does not like her, she seems to regard NY-Alice with awe.  

In NYC it is constantly snowing and in Sydney there is a constant sweltering heat-wave, creating opposing atmospheres that are symbolic to Alice's situation.  The contrast also helps to create tension and drama that enhances the plot as it unravels.  She has never known anything to cross-over in these parallel worlds - and then things start to.  (The Donald Duck t-shirt scene was quite dramatic and I felt a chill along with NY-Alice at that point.)

I liked the way surreal events would occur in both worlds (e.g. the random appearance of toys), which is part of the reason you are left guessing what is real.

The dramatic irony of Sydney-Alice’s situation is skillfully shown.  Her behaviour is strange and (for want of a better word) abnormal for those observing her, but from her POV you can see how normal it all seems.  You can see why she needs to see things through and take the risks she does, even though you can also see things are moving in a downward spiral.  

Sydney-Alice may be borderline crazy but NY-Alice is no better off.  She is estranged from her parents and the closest thing she has to a friend is her drug-dealer.  She has an on-off relationship with a guy called Gabe who is clearly devoted to her but she doesn’t feel the same way about him.  She sees him as her 'bit of rough’.  She likes ‘slumming it’ with him because she knows it is something that would piss her parents off severely, and she likes pissing her parents off.   When she has had enough of Gabe she swots him, and by extension his son, away like they are flies bugging her.  She knows she is using him but she doesn’t care.   Her description of Gabe is also telling of the kind of person she is.  We learn from her that Gabe is a single parent who is bringing his son, Jordie, up in a rough area in NY.  Her description of Gabe alludes to him being of African descent and, by NY-Alice's standards, poor.  The only other person connected to him (besides Jordie) is someone called Latisha who takes care of Jordie when required.  Alice looks down on Latisha, referring to her as a prostitute. I liked the way Gabe’s defense of Latisha read like a sarcastic retort at Alice’s small-minded stereotyping.   In fact, if you were to follow Alice’s rules of stereotyping and hazard a guess at what Gabe does for a living (assuming he has a job) it would be a pimp maybe, or a drug dealer.  But actually Gabe is an artist.  He is an artist who is successful enough to be able to put on exhibitions in NY, but not successful enough to live in a ‘nice’ residential area.  I take this to mean nice by Alice’s standards (and she’s filthy rich!). We know he is not poor (that much is clarified). This revealed to me that NY-Alice is basically a rich bitch with racist tendencies.  In contrast Sydney-Alice is outraged by NY-Alice’s treatment of Gabe.  She might even genuinely have a thing for him. The Jekyll & Hyde portrayal of Alice is well written.  Incidentally, it was the character development of NY-Alice and Sydney-Alice that brought me to my conclusion as to which life was real and which was not (I won’t tell you what conclusion that was).  

 The plot is not without clichés - such as the scene where Sydney-Alice visits a clairvoyant and the scene where NY-Alice is lying in the bath.  Even so, I didn't mind the clichés so much.

I did however have a problem with the scene when NY-Alice waltzes into Gabe’s apartment, lectures him about taking care of his son and hands him a shit load of money. (Thanks to NY-Alice, Gabe and Jordie can finally get out of that poor neighbourhood.)  Supposedly she was trying to redeem herself, and may have been convincing if she had not been quite so patronising.  

Gabe isn’t entirely American; he’s also a bit French, which presumably is why he keeps ending every sentence with ‘eh’ (Is that French??).  

Some events that occur read like a recurring dream – such as the scenes where Sydney-Alice chases the girl in the green dress and the events play out the same, over and over.  Problem is it did get a bit tedious.  Also, I found myself shouting at her, telling her who the girl was (I can’t believe neither of them could work it out). 

Crazy things happen that make no sense - but that’s what dreams are like, right?  The problem is when it becomes clear which is the ‘real world,’ the surreal stuff, such as the unexplained random appearance of toys, become flaws.   

The plot seemed to drag on a bit before it got to the climax, the revelation as to why this all happened in the first place, and the resolution. 

That said, I was actually blown away by the standard of writing for much of the novel and it seemed to me that it was better than some of the conventionally published books I have read. 

Is Undreamed a hidden treasure?  In truth, the jury is out.  But it certainly is well worth a read so I would highly recommend it.

My appeal to readers

No comments:

Post a Comment