This novel, oh excuse me, collection of short stories… no, actually it’s a tourist guide, the A and O of the Dream Archipelago. Or maybe not…
The editor calls it ‘a gazetteer’. It lists the known islands of the Dream Archipelago in alphabetical order. The foreword is written by one of the prominent islanders whose name is frequently mentioned throughout the gazetteer. In the foreword an overview is given of the world the reader is about to stumble upon.
The Dream Archipelago consists of thousands of islands. Some of them named, some not. Some have several names due to the different patois’ used. The archipelago does not have an official map. Because of a strong magnetic field, neither satellites nor planes can fly high enough to get full images of the islands. The gazetteer makes up for the unknown on the global level by describing in great detail the landscapes, climate conditions and tourist attractions available on each island or island group. In between the gazetteer’s official entries appear pages from diaries, documents and life stories that span decades. The latter is important because the past, present and future of the islands is shaped by the people who live there.
Christopher Priest’s work falls under the genre of science fiction, but having a description of an imaginary world does not take it far away from ours. The similarities are quite uncanny at times. Despite of the unusual format, there is actually a plot: there is a murder mystery, an epic love story and other touches upon people lives that become intertwined in the most unexpected ways.
The text is multilayered, if not multidimensional. Every installment of the gazetteer opens up another microcosm, that is different, but yet similar to the previous ones. The point of the book is hidden somewhere: on the ferry ride between the islands, or on tips of the mountain ranges, or inside the mysterious ancient columns around the archipelago. Did the author simply want to create a world of his own or is the Dream Archipelago a metaphor of the modern society? Or are islands and islanders one and the same, as they fail to maintain meaningful relationships and shelter themselves from the outside world because of fears and prejudices?
So what was the point of writing this book? That’s for the reader to decide.
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