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Dreaming of Dystopia

Will Self's The Book of Dave
2006This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

I had a dream in which, as in a children's picture-book, I could see in one grand vista countless people reading—in a comfy chair, stretched out on the beach, on a commuter train, in Starbucks, in bed—and mysteriously knew what they were reading. Suddenly, many of the readers put down their books—all of them were reading one or another of the many installments in the Left Behind series—and picked up Will Self's new novel, The Book of Dave. And at the same moment, a much smaller number of readers, all of whom had been reading The Book of Dave, set it down and picked up a volume of Jenkins and LaHaye.

Extension of Being

Since Freud has been discredited and neither Joseph nor Daniel has a cell phone, I'm not sure where I should look for help in interpreting my dream. But I think the dream had something to do with the power of fiction to confer what C. S. Lewis called "extension of being," enabling us to see through other eyes while not forsaking the opportunity to return to ourselves.

The best fiction does this effortlessly, or such is the benign illusion of art. The Book of Dave is a case in point. Shifting back and forth between the modern London of an embittered cabdriver, Dave Rudman, and the distant future, a few centuries after flooding has reduced Britain to a chain of islands, the novel builds its preposterous world with a carefree, disarming swagger (managing, along the way, to work as a kind of parody of more solemn dystopias, even as it packs a considerable emotional punch).

The link between the present and future is a strange book that Dave writes and then buries. Into it he pours his frustration over the dissolution of his marriage (his wife has left him, taking their young son with her), the daily ...

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