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Polly Samson: “A Theatre for Dreamers” (London: Bloomsbury, 2020)

In the latest of our BD visitor contributions, our good friend Dr Kevin De Ornellas, who is Lecturer in English Renaissance Literature, at the School of Arts and Humanities of Ulster University, takes a detailed look at A Theatre for Dreamers, the new book from Polly Samson. The audiobook for this expands on the lockdown broadcasts Polly and her husband, David Gilmour, have done, with new music created by David specifically for the project. Many of you have bought, or are thinking of buying, Polly's book, and indeed some of you will have got a copy when you bought a ticket for the (delayed) evenings hosted by Polly and David, which are also due to include some of the new music. For those curious, Kevin kindly expands on what he found upon reading the book…If you are looking for an easy read, a summer page-turner, this is not it. A Theatre for Dreamers is a difficult book, a book that is highly allusive and sometimes ethereal in quality. Although the basic story is very simple – a woman remembers being on Hydra with a bunch of creative types in 1960 as she coincidentally deals with revelations about her mother – the novel is layered with feeling and complex memory. The plot is not always linear – most of the novel describes memories of 1960 but we start off in 2016 before we go back to the late 1950s and by the end we have stopped off at Paddington Station in 1970 and returned again to the island some decades later. This structure makes sense: memories do not come to us in a neat, linear way so there is no need for this memory-fixated novel to be conveyed in a strictly linear trajectory.There is a large cast of characters: although we see everything from the self-consciously subjective eyes of Erica, the first-person narrator, she is greedy for experience and observation of varied humanity – put simply, she is interested in lots of people. Getting to know these people takes a lot of effort: for example, on page 215 alone we have to engage with the following named characters: Francine, Charmian, Leonard, Marianne, Jimmy, Bobby, Robyn, Bim, Axel, Angela, Marianne, Demitri, Charlie and Edie. Engaging with this novel necessitates commitment. Some of these characters are very significant to the novel as a whole; some are more incidental. It is worth making the effort because this is an intellectually substantial as well as emotive novel.

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