Having loved Riddley Walker, I finally got around to checking out something else by Hoban, and I'm so pleased I picked this one. The idea of the book is so awesome that I can't believe no-one's thought of it before – maybe they have – but it's about two people who find that they have the ability to enter each other's dreams. At first they explore the sexual possibilities of this enviable talent, and begin an unstable relationship half in real life and half in dream-worlds – but gradually nightmarish elements from their respective pasts begin to intrude into the dreams and force a kind of resolution.
It's a smallish book – I read it in a couple of days – and Hoban builds it up simply with short chapters and very clear writing. There is a pared-down feel to the dialogue which takes a little getting used to, but the effect is that he is somehow very easy to believe when he describes things which should be impossible. His evocation of the world of dreams is spot-on – logical yet illogical, sexy, frightening and difficult to pin down. Hoban is good at building up metaphors gradually as the novel goes on, and one of the most central to this book is the Klein bottle, a theoretical 4-dimensional object which has only one surface but which intersects with itself, like a kind of solid Möbius strip. Not easy to describe, but for Hoban it seems to represent the way our lives cross and re-cross the same physical and emotional points. This symbol and others like it resonate more and more as you go through the book, helped out by two very endearing and thoughtful central characters who, among other things, are concerned with the way art reflects and enriches life.
By the end, the idea of the dream itself begins to seem like a symbol of the way in which memories and past experiences can affect you in the present: how do we begin a new relationship when there is so much emotional baggage from previous mistakes and heartbreaks? That is, I suppose, what the book is trying to discuss in a new and sympathetic way. Appropriately enough, when I finished it, I felt like I'd woken up from a very beautiful and wise dream.