The Dream Factory by John Simes. Book review

The Dream Factory by John Simes, Matador, £7.99, Website

Reviewed by Dave Jeffery

A young boy is forced to leave home when his scientist parents are abducted by a clandestine organisation bent on harnessing their inventions. The youth hides in The Dream Factory, a surreal A.I. netherworld that juxtaposes fantasy and reality, where children come and go on a whim, animals have as much standing and influence as their human counterparts, and people fall in love across great distances.

If the blurb above presents the plotline to The Dream Factory as somewhat confusing, then herein lies some of the basic issues that make this book at once both an enjoyable and deeply frustrating read.  While marketed at young adults, you only have to read the early chapters to realise that writer John Simes isn’t quite sure where to set out his stall when it comes to narrative style. The first chapter, a beautifully written first person reflective piece on a teen watching their parents having a physical fight in the home, is powerful and bitter, and sets the reader up for an intense, provocative read. Come the end of chapter four and we are in a free-flowing narrative where everything is off kilter, and characters come and go, as the story meanders like an old sot off home after closing time.

When we come to the characters and plot, the inconsistencies continue. Some characters are nicely drawn; others are mere caricatures of any Lemony Snicket, Roald Dahl, Tom Sharpe or David Walliams book you’ve ever read.

Then comes more frustration as we are introduced to some quality writing, Peter and Navinda’s love story for example is delicately told and commands applause, the local Reverend trying to find the passion for life that he’s lost, all touching and erudite moments that are at odds with an unstable basic storyline of baddies trying to steal something powerful in order to change the world.

So despite all of this, is The Dream Factory a bad book? No, it certainly is not – there are moments of exquisite brilliance that had this reviewer smiling like someone had just served up his Sunday lunch.  Simes certainly has a strong narrative voice that captivates when he gets into his stride.

But one can’t help but wonder just how special The Dream Factory would have been if handed over to a decent editor, the narrative tightened and honed for the very market it seeks to serve.

Alas, of this we can only dream.