Tiffany Gibert speaks to debut US novelist Chloe Krug Benjamin about the concept of lucid dreaming, which she explores in The Anatomy of Dreams.
Debut novels have taken over the 2014 book scene – and one of those is US author Chloe Krug Benjamin’s The Anatomy of Dreams. Let’s just call it a mystery wrapped in a psychological thriller with the structure of a coming-of-age story and just a hint of the fantastic – in other words, a little something for everyone. Benjamin shows great skill in crafting her narrative about two high school sweethearts, Gabe and Sylvie, who become involved in questionably ethical research on dreaming. Read on to hear the author’s perspective on dreaming as story-telling.
What was the first spark for the novel?
I’ve always been fascinated by dreams – they seem like such intriguing evidence of the brain’s obsession with narrative as a form of sense-making. But because dreaming is an unconscious process, we have little control over the stories we tell, so they can be fraught with anxiety, vulnerability and exposure. In all, it felt like rich territory in which to explore issues of trust, characterisation and identity. How do we reconcile our conscious and unconscious lives? And how do we define and understand ourselves when they conflict?
Do you have a background in psychology or the study of dreams? You write about both very naturally. I know very little about either, but you convinced me…
I’m glad to hear that, because I don’t have a background in those areas, save for a few psychology classes in college. Conceptualising the research that Gabe and Sylvie pursue was the most difficult part of the writing process. I did invent the idea of using lucid dreaming to treat sleep disorders, but I was influenced by many real-life researchers – from forefathers like Freud and Jung to Stephen LaBerge and Rosalind Cartwright, who explore lucid dreaming and parasomnias.
Impressive! So, in the beginning, the reader thinks The Anatomy of Dreams is going to be more of a first-time love story, but as we read on, the relationship between Sylvie and Gabe becomes somewhat secondary to Sylvie’s internal struggles?
I like this question because to me, Anatomy is more about the relationship Sylvie has with herself than the relationship she has with Gabe. I was very interested in exploring the promises and perils of knowledge: How well should we know ourselves? How well should we know our partners? I wanted Sylvie’s voice to be straightforward, not flashy or overly stylised, so that it could act as a lid that the narrative pulls off, revealing layers of strangeness and conflict.
Were there other books you thought about or returned to a lot while writing your own?
Yes, yes. There were so many books and authors I had in mind while writing. The book that was most influential was Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which also explores science and ethics within a boarding school setting. I was also inspired by the combination of the mundane and the absurd in Haruki Murakami’s work, as well as Alice Munro’s brilliant exploration of human relationships.
Are there any recent or upcoming books that you’re particularly excited about?
So many. My fiancé jokes that I only read books published after 1995 because I’m so busy trying to keep up with contemporary releases that I never have time to read anything else. I adore the sound of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, and I can’t wait to read Tana French’s latest, The Secret Place.
Dhs42, available at www.amazon.com. Photograph by: Nick Wilkes