Book review: Tourmaline by James Brogden

Tourmaline by James Brogden
Tourmaline by James Brogden

How to review a book about dreams when I don’t dream? For me, sleeping is the great blank, the slip into non-being in between the daylight bouts of consciousness. If death is sleep, my sleep, then it can hold no real terrors for me (although I don’t believe it is like my sleeping). That’s not to say I never dream, just very rarely. Unfortunately, my dreams, when they do occur, are nothing like the wonder and terror-strewn dreams of Tourmaline, but genuinely, undeniably boring: has anybody else ever dreamed on the rates of VAT? All of time and space, every imagining and phantasm, they are all there at the disposal of my dreaming self and it chooses rates of VAT. J’accuse my subconscious of terminal tedium.

By the reading of it, James Brogden’s subconscious isn’t boring at all. Judging by Tourmaline, going to sleep at night for him must be a trembling upon the brink of fear and excitement, a step out upon the high board poised above the roiling waves of unconsciousness personal and collective, looking down and seeing the monsters and wonders below and knowing they are waiting for him. Would I enjoy this sort of sleeping? I’d like to give it a try! But, failing that, I read Tourmaline, and was transported in my waking to worlds of wonder, bordering our own in sleep – a theme of Brogden’s writing in this and his excellent first novel, The Narrows. There, through those Narrows, people went between worlds through thin places made physical, here they pass mainly through dream doors, although some enter by way of paintings and pain.

We live in a world that has somehow been drained of wonder: dreams are, for most people, one of the few remaining channels back to that wonder and Brogden takes dreams seriously, examining them, turning them under words so that they live in everyday, waking light and become flesh, not phantasm. Would I want to live in a world where arakas – psychic parasites living in the dream layers of consciousness – are real? Well, yes, so long as I didn’t get one in my hair! A tamed, stolid world cries out for monsters to crash through its walls and bring it down – we can see that in the way bored young men turn to the terrors and thrills of Isis and head off to Syria and Iraq. Indeed, a history of civilisation could be written as the caduceus of security and boredom, with wars proceeding ultimately from the suffocation of peace and prosperity: Nietzche’s raging against 19th-century complacency eventually issuing into the carnage of the first half of the 20th century.

For those who dream, however, there is escape from boredom, at the expense of the great, the question that arches over everything: is it real? Is it true? Or is it just a dream? In Tourmaline, the dreams are real, and they bite. Read it.


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