Henri Skinner is a hardened ex-war reporter on the run from his past. On his way to see his son, Sam, for the first time in years, Henri steps into the road without looking and collides with oncoming traffic. He is rushed to a nearby hospital where he floats, comatose, between dreams, reliving the fairytales of his childhood and the secrets that made him run away in the first place.
After the accident, Sam—a thirteen-year old synesthete with an IQ of 144 and an appetite for science fiction—waits by his father’s bedside every day. There he meets Eddie Tomlin, a woman forced to confront her love for Henri after all these years, and twelve-year old Madelyn Zeidler, a coma patient like Henri and the sole survivor of a traffic accident that killed her family. As these four very different individuals fight—for hope, for patience, for life—they are bound together inextricably, facing the ravages of loss and first love side by side.
A revelatory, urgently human story that examines what we consider serious and painful alongside light and whimsy, THE BOOK OF DREAMS is a tender meditation on memory, liminality, and empathy, asking with grace and gravitas what we will truly find meaningful in our lives once we are gone.
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)|
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2018 Nina George
The fall only lasts a few seconds. I can hear the engines of the cars above me on Hammersmith Bridge. Rush hour. I smell the city, the fading fragrance of spring, of dew on the leaves. Then I plunge into the cold water and it closes over my head. I strike out with my arms, gathering speed as the receding tide carries me with it. Despite being more than thirty miles away, the sea sucks the river toward it. My body has not forgotten the tug of the tide; it’s as if I never left the sea, although it’s over twenty-five years since I last bathed in the Atlantic.
Finally I reach the girl.
The river is dragging her along. It wants to own her. It’s intent on breaking down her body into its constituent parts, severing her hopes from her fears, ripping the smile from her lips, and cutting off her future.
She’s sinking into the muddy waters. I dive and pull her closer by her hair. I manage to catch hold of a slender, slippery upper arm. I tighten my grip and gather my breath for the coming struggle. Salty, ice-cold water floods into my mouth. The Thames wraps me in its embrace.
Her face, with eyes the color of the wintry sea, floats toward me. She’s pinching her nose shut with the fingers of one hand, as if she had merely jumped into the lukewarm, chlorine-tinged water of a swimming pool. In fact, she has fallen from a boat, one of the many pleasure craft carrying tourists along the Thames. After climbing onto the second-highest bar of the boat’s railings, the girl had tilted her face to catch the May sunshine when a chance wave slapped against the hull, raising the stern and tipping the whole boat forward. The girl didn’t make a sound, but her eyes were brimming with boundless curiosity.
From Hammersmith Bridge we watched her fall—the kissing couple, the beggar in the threadbare tuxedo, and me.
The beggar jumped up from his “turf,” a piece of cardboard in a sunny spot against the suspension bridge’s green rail. “Oh my God!” he whispered. The couple turned to me. Neither they nor the beggar moved a muscle—they simply stared at me. So I clambered over the green cast-iron railing, waited until the small figure surfaced below me, and jumped.
The girl is gazing at me with more trust and hope than a man like me deserves. Of all the people in this city who might have been in a position to rescue her, it had to be me.
I lace my arms around her frail, wet body. The girl kicks out, and her feet catch me in the head and mouth. I swallow water, I breathe in water, but I still manage to make myself buoyant and push for the surface. The world grows louder again. The May wind feels mild on my wet face; the waves send spray into my eyes. I turn onto my back to form a bobbing, watery cot and haul the girl onto my chest so she can breathe and look up at the blue sky. In this position, we float down the Thames past brick facades and wooden boats moored to the muddy banks.
The kid splutters and gasps for air. She seems to be about four or five. I don’t have a clue about children, not even my own.
Samuel. Sam. He’s thirteen and he’s waiting for me. He’s always been waiting for me. Forever. I was never there.
I start humming Charles Trenet’s La Mer, that majestic hymn to the beauty of the sea. Scraps of the French lyrics bubble up into my mind. I haven’t spoken my native tongue since I was eighteen, but now it comes flooding back.
As I sing, I gradually sense that the girl’s heart is settling into a calmer rhythm. I feel her little lungs pumping and her trust piercing the film of water and fear between us. I hold her tightly and use one arm to propel myself on my back toward the bank, where there is a small jetty. My clothes are sodden. I kick my legs like a frog and my ungainly one-sided crawl makes me look like a one- armed bandit.
“It’s going to be okay,” I whisper. I can hear Eddie’s voice clearly inside my head, as if she were there, whispering in my ear: “You’re not a good liar, Henri. It’s one of your greatest qualities.”
Eddie is the best thing that never happened to me.
My shoulder bumps into one of the floating barrels supporting the jetty. There’s a ladder within reach. I grab the girl by the waist and lift her up, pushing her tiny feet higher and higher until she finds a handhold and wriggles out of my grasp.
I follow her. I climb out of the river; pick up the exhausted child, who is desperately trying not to weep; and carry her past yellow, red, and gray houses back to Hammersmith Bridge. The girl entwines her arms around my neck and buries her face in my shoulder. She’s as light as a feather, but she gets heavier and heavier as I walk along, pursued by the nagging thought that I really need to hurry now to meet Sam. I must go to him. I must. My son’s waiting for me at his school.
The same couple is still standing there on the bridge, holding each other close. The woman looks at me in a daze, her eyes wide and shiny. The kohl swooshes at their corners and her beehive hairstyle remind me of Amy Winehouse. Holding up his smart- phone, the man keeps saying, “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it, man. You actually got her. That was unbelievable.”
“Were you only filming or did you think of calling for help?” I hiss at him.
I put the girl down. She doesn’t want to let go, and her tiny hands cling to my neck before finally slipping through my wet hair.
All of a sudden I feel very weak and lose my balance. Incapable of standing upright, I stagger out into the road. The little girl screams.
Something big and hot sweeps into view over my shoulder. I see a twisted face through glass. I see a black bonnet, glinting in the sunlight, swipe my legs from under me. And then I see my own shadow rising at breakneck speed from the asphalt to meet me, and hear a noise like eggshells breaking on the rim of a china cup.
The pain in my head is a thousand times more intense than the agonizing twinge you feel when you bite into an ice cream. Everything around me goes quiet. Then I melt. I melt into the ground. I sink down, faster and faster, as if I were plummeting into a deep black lake beneath the asphalt.
Something is gazing up at me expectantly from the lake’s murky depths. The sky is receding all the time, its arc farther and farther overhead. I see the girl’s face up above, staring sadly at me as I seep into the stone with her oddly familiar eyes, which are the color of the sea in winter. Her oceanic eyes are now indistinguishable from the lake above me. I merge into the lake and its waters claim my body. Women and men cluster around the shores, obscuring the last patch of blue sky. I hear their thoughts inside my head.
The woman in the Mini tried to swerve out of the way.
Dazzled. She must have been dazzled. She didn’t see him.
From the way he stumbled out into the road, I thought he must be drunk.
Is he alive?
I can make out the beggar in the threadbare tuxedo as he pushes the other people aside, offering me a fresh glimpse of the sky—the never-ending, beautiful sky.
I close my eyes. I’ll rest for a while and then get up again and continue on my way. I can just about make it there on time. It’ll take a while before the roll call for Fathers’ and Sons’ Day gets to Sam and me, to V for Valentiner, his mother’s surname.
We don’t know each other, and I think we should do something about that. If you agree, come to Fathers’ and Sons’ Day on 18 May at Colet Court. That’s part of St. Paul’s School for boys in Barnes. It’s on the banks of the Thames. I’ll be waiting for you outside.
Samuel Noam Valentiner
I’LL BE RIGHT with you, Sam. I’m just having a little rest.
Someone prizes open my eyelids. The lakeshore is far, far away, high above me, and a man is calling down from the rim of the hole. He’s wearing a paramedic’s uniform and gold-framed sun- glasses. He smells of smoke. I can see my reflection in his shades. I see my eyes go dull and glaze over. I see the paramedic’s thoughts.
Come on, his thoughts echo inside my hole. Don’t. Don’t die. Please, don’t die.
A long shrill beep draws a straight line under my life.
Not now! It’s too soon!
It’s . . .
It . . .
The long beep swells into a final drumroll.
Reading Group Guide
1. What caused Henri to attempt to save the child he sees drowning?
2. Why do you think Marie-France doesn’t want Henri to be a part of Sam’s life?
3. How does Henri’s relationship with his own father affect his relationship with Sam?
4. When describing his father, Henri says he “understands things, but has never understood people.” What does he mean by this, and is it true of Henri himself as well?
5. How does Sam’s synesthesia affect his perceptions of the world?
6. Why is Sam so interested in Maddie and her story? What do they have in common?
7. How would you characterize Henri’s relationship with Marie-France? How does it compare to his relationship with Eddie?
8. Does the fact that both Henri and Eddie lost their fathers make them closer in some way?
9. Scott says that Sam’s life is good despite its difficulties because it is interesting. Are interesting lives always good in some way? How would Sam and the other characters define a good life?
10. What does Sam learn about Maddie by going to Oxford and visiting her old house?
11. How has Henri handled the loss of his father? Has he fully come to terms with his emotions?
12. What do you think Eddie means when she says she loves Wilder but she doesn’t? How do you think she defines love?
13. How do each of the characters navigate between their dreams and reality? What role does dreaming serve in their lives?
14. If you could find a door to go back in your own life and change some of the decisions you’ve made—would you enter the door?
15. In our modern life it seems that miracles do not exist anymore; on the other hand, there might be things happening in between sky and earth that no one can explain. Do you agree?
16. What do you think really happened to Henri and Maddie at the end?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 out of 5 Stars My Review: Originally penned in Nina George’s native German in 2016, it will hit US shelves in English this April. Sam was born to Henri and Marie-France, war reporters who met among turmoil and sadness, and whom conceived Sam one night in moments of desperation for longing of normalcy and a need to fill a loneliness. Sam is 13, and a synesthete. He has more sensory receptors than other people, he sees sounds, voices, and music as colors. When he enters a room, he can tell which emotions have been felt in it most frequently. He is part of the elite high IQ society, Mensa, and his parents are no longer together. That is why he secretly invited his dad to come to his school event that day. Sam could not tell Marie-France he had invited Henri. She is a wounded woman, hell-bent on keeping out of harm’s way after working as a photographer in war zones for years. Sam cannot bring himself to hurt her. In fact, he wants to protect her from everything and tell her how much he loves her, but does not know how to go about it. He feels like all she sees when she looks at him is the kid who never looks anyone in the eye, reads too much science fiction, and is a permanent reminder of a man she can’t stand. When Sam witnesses Henri risk his life to save a little girl’s, Maddie, and winds up in a coma, the story becomes one of missed opportunities, and life’s haunting questions. Will Henri and Maddie survive their comas? Will Sam be able to reach them with his gift through their coma hazes? Henri’s ex, Edwina (Eddie), plays a big role here too, as his emergency contact, the doctor’s and Sam are looking to her for decisions to be made. She cannot believe Henri has a son he never told her about, after all their years together. At times unbelievably sad, at times uproariously hopeful, Nina George has penned a great novel full of all the emotions that keep great novels with us years after we put them down. ~*All the Love of Books From Me to You
I will start by saying this book is not for everyone. I am seldom at a loss for an opinion about a book, but I have been thinking about this over the past several days since I completed it, and I still don't quite know what to say about it. In Nina George's own words, "Imagine you found a door that would let you go back into your past and change some of the decisions you’ve made—would you enter it? Knowing that there would be consequences, and not necessarily good ones?" The premise is relatively simple. Henri, after rescuing a young child from the Thames, is in the hospital in a coma. Henri was on his way to his son's school; he has not seen Sam for at least ten years. Sam finds out that Henri is in the hospital and in a coma. Sam is a synesthete, who knows and feels things by colors. Eddie, a long-lost love of Henri, also finds him in the hospital, and together, she and Sam resolve to bring Henri back from the coma. There are chapters that explore the great "What If?" What if Henri had done this in a previous situation? What if Henri had done that? How would it have played out differently? The book is an exploration of the main questions of life: What is the meaning of our existence? Where do we go in our dreams? What does it mean to live a life in full? Thank you to Crown Publishing and Net Galley for providing me with the ARC for this book.
I loved and hated this book. Ms. George’s writing is lovely. Her prose is beautifully descriptive, and she has an incredibly enticing way of setting a scene that incorporates all of the reader’s senses. The author pours her love and grief for her late father into every page of her novel. The opening scene is gripping, but it then took me awhile to get into the rhythm of the story and figure out the intersecting players. Once I read the author’s postscript, everything clicked and I easily fell into the story’s cadence. As the story progressed, I found myself embroiled in the wants, wishes and regrets of each of the primary characters. Henri Malo Skinner is a man filled with regret and remorse. At most junctures in his life, his fear and self-loathing lead him to decisions that leave him alone and lonely. In his coma state, Henri relives some of these scenes on a continuous loop, but each time he makes different decisions which leads to different outcomes (to me, this had a repetitive feel that reminded me of the movie Groundhog Day). As he revisits these critical moments, his ex-lover, Edwina, and his son’s bedside presence permeate these dreams. I loved the organic development of Edwina and Henri’s son’s, Sam, friendship. Both are interesting characters. Edwina is one of those female characters that you wish you knew in person. Sam is a synesthete; he feels everything deeply, he sees numbers as colors, he sees auras, and he can sense the space between living and death when he opens his mind to it. This makes for some interesting and eye-opening scenes in the story. “How could I fritter away my life in such fear and on so many refusals, saying “no” at the wrong forks in the road and “I don’t know” at important ones?” The Book of Dreams is a sad story of hope in the face of regrets and loss. At times I felt hopeful, and at other times I felt exhausted by the characters seemingly futile efforts. Ms. George embeds messages of the fragility of life and choosing happiness into this story of love and family. This beautifully written book was hard to read at times, and it has left me thinking of the many forks in the road of my own journey. The Book of Dreams is a thought-provoking, literary gem. 4.5 stars
The Book of Dreams is a fascinating read that grabs the reader tightly and demands attention. The unique narrative is written in the first person from each of the main characters' point of view, thus the reader is able experience the story from multiple angles. Nina George effectively explores the depths of human relationships, and looks intently at both the good side and the bad. Ultimately this is a story of redemption, and each characters journey to find it is heartbreaking, yet inspiring. The story centers on Henri, who ends up in a coma after rescuing a young girl from the Thames, his ex-girlfriend Eddie and his son Sam. The Book of Dreams has ordinary, flawed characters in an extraordinary situation, plus extraordinary characters one just doesn't usually find. The Book deals with tragedy but gives hope, and it deals with endings that are really beginnings. This is an absolute treasure of a book, though I recommend having a box of tissues nearby when you read it...it's been a long time since a book touched me so deeply--I literally ached at the end of this book. This story is one the reader does not want to leave--while reading or after finishing.
Wow oh wow, there are some books you feel blessed to have stumbled across and they absolutely blow you away. This is one of them, the best book I’ve read this year!!! I felt every emotion you could feel, this one should be read slow and savored. Samuel, Eddie, Maddie and Henri were a wonderful cast of characters. I haven’t read a book like this before, but I became so invested with all the characters, I’m glad I took the chance. My mother passed away a year ago in a very short timeframe and if she was able to dream during her last few days and see her life replayed, feeling the love for her family and remembering the best of her memories, I can only smile and be thankful. Samuels pajama party, Henri’s fathers blue boat, Edwina’s love for her father, and Maddie’s story, I will remember them all for a long, long while. What a thought provoking love story, this is one that will make me a better person due to the time I spent with this crew, and more thankful for my many blessings. Samuel absolutely stole the show, I fell in love with that young boy at hello and the ending was perfect, could not have been done any better. I almost felt my mother touch my shoulder and wish me well, she would have also loved this book. Highly recommend!!! I absolutely loved it, will be reading this again real soon. I was given an advanced copy from Crown Publishing through Net Galley for my honest review, this one gets high 5*****’s.
A marvelous book, one of the best I've read in a long time. If you like literary fiction you can sink your teeth into, you'll love this book. Exploring alternative realities, dreams, and the thin spaces between life and death, the book is narrated by Henri, a coma patient in a London hospital. This narration is supported and supplemented by those of his son and longtime lover. This book is engrossing; I couldn't put it down.
When was the last time that you read a book and found that tears were rolling down your cheeks? For me, it has been quite a while but I cried over this one. When I told my husband about this novel, he said that it must have been depressing. I replied that it was not depressing but that it was sad. Sadness is an essential piece of this book and yet to me it was a wonderful read and one that I recommend highly, if it is your kind of book or if you are willing to see if it is. Henri, a French man with a history, was a journalist who covered wars. His thirteen year old son, Sam, did not know him. Just when they are about to meet, Henri saves a young girl but himself is injured and thereafter is in a coma. This means that Sam and Henri's reunion takes place in the hospital where Sam, who has synesthesia, senses deeply and feels Henri's presence. Sam spends every day at the hospital sharing himself with Henri and the novel's other protagonists. This book is the story of several characters: Sam, Madelyn who is a young girl in a coma and Eddie, the woman that Henri let get away. Their relationships are explored and intersect with one another over the course of the novel which is told in alternating voices. There is a philosophical underpinning to this book. The characters both live their lives and imagine the ways in which their lives might have played out differently with the same people. The author also explores what she imagines that characters think and feel when they are in a non-awake state and what happens when someone is about to die. Nina George comments that she wrote three of her novels, of which this is the third, to better understand death. She was writing in the aftermath of her father's death. The book is beautifully written. I very much enjoyed this author's novel, The Little Paris Bookshop and feel that The Book of Dreams is also a keeper. For me, it is a five star novel. Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a moving and wonderful read. The opinions are my own.
I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I picked up this book, and I mean that in the best possible way. This is the type of book I will be thinking about for awhile. I think the author really took a chance with this one and maybe it won't be for everyone, but I'm pretty darn glad I read it. The story in some ways is a bit tricky to explain without getting into spoiler territory so I'm gonna keep it brief and simple. The less you know is probably best in this case. Henri Skinner is set to see his teenage son, Sam, for the first time in years when he is rushed to the hospital after being involved in a traffic accident. Henri's former girlfriend, Eddie, and Sam stick close to Henri's hospital bed as he is in a coma. The book is told from the alternating perspectives of Eddie, Sam, and Henri. Yes, you read that right, you will get to know the man in the coma quite well. I wasn't prepared for how much this would hit me on an emotional and spiritual level. Now I'll admit some of what the author was trying to express might have gone over my head, but what I did get, I loved. It was truly a treat to read a book in which the author was willing to go out on a limb and write a book that might not be "market friendly". I love when authors are willing to take chances and just go for it in order to tell the story they want and I appreciate when publishers give them the opportunity to do this as well. Such a great read and I look forward to checking out the author's other novels. Read this book if you are up for the challenge that it might be a high risk, but high reward type read. Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance digital copy! I was under no obligation to post a review and all views expressed are my honest opinion.