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Samanta Schweblin's "Fever Dream"

Olivia Snaije By Olivia Snaije Published on April 30, 2017
This article was updated on May 2, 2017

Samanta Schweblin is one of PEN World Voices Festival's speakers for 2017 where she will read passages from works that influenced her alongside passages from her own writing. Her latest book is Fever Dream.

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Photo Credit: Alejandra Lopez

How did you decide on the structure of your novel, which is unorthodox?

It was a lengthy process of research. I’ve kept twelve different versions of the first ten or fifteen pages of the book. Strangely enough, although the story was always very clear in my head, from one end to the other, I thought it would be a fable. It took me a long time to understand that this story, despite its pressing nature, needed to be told step by step. When David's voice appeared it was so powerful and each line of his dialogue was so defining to the structure of the story that it soon became apparent that the narrator wasn’t necessary. And as soon as the dialogue between David and Amanda began, all of a sudden the writing process happened very quickly. If I sometimes lost the train of thought, David, in the the manuscript’s dialogues kept asking the question, ‘what’s important?’And the writing continued very naturally after that.

Your novel is tinged with elements of horror and the supernatural-is this a particular type of literature that you enjoy?

Of course, very much so. Above all, South American dark fantasy that we call rioplatence fantasy from both shores of the Rio de la Plata from Argentina and Uruguay. It’s a genre literature that is less similar to the monstrous, to the time machines or the décors of Lovecraft and closer to speculative horror, with a foot in reality—terror that can threaten daily life.

How important are environmental issues to your life and work?

As a citizen, they are very important. I remember being shocked when, for the first time, I saw independent documents circulating on social networks about the impact of chemicals on people in the Argentine countryside. It was, and is, terrible. When some of this horror showed up in Fever Dream, I was faced with a big dilemma: should I name the culprits or not? Should I inform people concretely about what is happening? I felt I had to do it, and at the same time I had the feeling that history completely ommits this kind of thing. In the end, I thought that the very fear of these events were alarming enough for readers. We always forget names, dates, and numbers, but if something frightens us enough, then we marshal ourselves.

Is your next work likely to be another novel or will you return to the short story form?

I will always write short stories, I’m unable to stop writing them. But having written a novel sparked fresh ideas and I’m already working on a new novel, which I believe will be my next piece of work. 

What are you reading these days?

Last week I read Valeria Luiselli’s short essay, Tell me how it Ends, which was both devastating and superb. I’ve almost finished The Vegetarian by Han Kang, which I like very much. And on my night table I have Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton, an author whom I follow with complete devotion. 

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Olivia is a Paris-based journalist and editor.


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