14
September
2020

Teaching 'The Dream House'

I remember this being a common catch-phrase when I was growing up.

“Mom, can my pocket money be increased?”
“Dream on.”

“Dad, I wish we were going to the sea for Christmas…”
“Dream on.”

And even to myself…”I want to run away from home… dream on!”

So, it was with some trepidation that I undertook to write the study manual for a book with “Dream” in the title! And ironically, there is that same sense of ennui that goes with the catch phrase.

But there’s also so much more.

The Natal Midlands is the backdrop and become almost another character in the story – and you’ll have to decide for yourself if he/ she is a villain or victim.

The first time I read a novel, I like to do so ‘cold’ – without googling, researching, heresay: just the book and its reader.

With this novel, once I had done this, I had the sense that I had just watched a play. It had, quite often, that sense of theatricality. I imagined it being performed at The Market, with a brooding, contained Looksmart arriving to stir things up in almost-England! It was with interest that I discovered it was indeed based on a play “Dream of the Dog” and Higginson was longing to flesh out the characters and make more of the drama.

He delivers!

It is a simple story: at one level, a revenge story – but there are few absolutes … except perhaps for the reprehensible Richard. The would-be avenger, is a mixture of rage, love, loss, regret, bitterness, guilt, self-knowledge, remorse … and lots of rands.

Look at this: “…a breathing place between the real world and the farm – has been reduced to a war zone, in which men wander about in the mist like wounded soldiers …” We all know places like this: places of the walking wounded; places that are war zones, but aren’t in a war.

There are several confrontation moments: think Fugard meets O’Neill.  “… using this vacant space to talk freely, as one might with a priest.” And there is MUCH to confess! You thought Desperate Housewives were desperate… wait till you meet Desperate Dreamers!

What about: “The problem of what to do with the past would have to carry on in the future.” We’ve all been there, haven’t we? How do we reconcile the past and the present? We are repeatedly admonished to ‘live in the now’ but it’s much easier to say this than it is to do. And how do we do this when the past is so ever-present?

“How little they have advanced, the numberless dispossessed” This line is meant to describe the poor – lost and lonely victims of apartheid and capitalism. But in fact, it could apply to many of the characters in the novel – their lack of advancement, their possessions or lack thereof.

So, no, it’s not a very cheerful read, but neither is Carte Blanche and you keep tuning in to that!
And yes, it does address SA politics… but not overtly – it’s just our reality.

The characters are real and twisted and try to be witty, but they are damaged (and aren’t we all?) The style of writing is deft and precise; one can see a playwright at work. One can easily see the sparse set and witness the bruised egos and hurt-hearts. It’s not superficial. It’s clearly been written by an INsider. It’s gritty, unsettling with a sense of pathos tinged with a few wry sneers. There is enough reality to make it recognisable but enough wistfulness to make us connect, regret, confess, and yes, dream.

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