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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth of Dreams
History and biography are already stories, so why bother with historical fiction and additional layers of make-believe? In The Law of Dreams, Peter Behrens shows why. The book centers on a young 19th-century Irishman, Fergus O'Brien, who is driven by circumstance, some imposed and some of his own making, first to England and then America. In James Joyce's Ulysses,...
Published on September 3, 2006 by Philip Koplin

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Yarn
The Law of Dreams is a very plot driven book. It moves linearly, the prose is economic and it's a very quick read. I enjoyed it.

It is the story of Fergus O'Brien and follows his life from his beginnings as a dirt poor Irish boy driven away from home by famine. He meets an assortment of harsh characters who are typically desperate and self interested. Some...
Published on August 29, 2009 by Richard Pittman


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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth of Dreams, September 3, 2006
By 
History and biography are already stories, so why bother with historical fiction and additional layers of make-believe? In The Law of Dreams, Peter Behrens shows why. The book centers on a young 19th-century Irishman, Fergus O'Brien, who is driven by circumstance, some imposed and some of his own making, first to England and then America. In James Joyce's Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus sees history as a nightmare from which he is trying to awaken; half a century earlier, the hero of Behrens' odyssey lives the Irish nightmare of famine and exploitation. Fergus can't escape from history; the best he, or indeed anyone, can do is to follow the "law of dreams": keep moving, in the hope of creating space for possibility and further dreams. Life teaches Fergus all too well that dreams can turn into nightmares, but its hard lessons never extinguish the spirit that drives him forward, or at least onward. Behrens shows, through language that is sometimes brutally poetic and a narrative drive that is always strongly focused, how the forces of history intersect with the contingencies of everyday life to forge our selves and our destinies. A history that is both remotely of the past and ever-present in the products of that past is brought to life through events and characters that are deeply imagined and richly described. My sole disappointment is that this is Behrens' first novel, so I'll be denied the pleasure of paging through his backlist. At least I have the consolation of having discovered a major writer and realizing that historical fiction can treat significant areas of human experience in ways that its more academic relatives aren't equipped to approach.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a superb novel, June 3, 2007
I read this book at a gallop. The language is spare, brisk, and sometimes achingly beautiful. The world that Peter Behrens evokes is a brutal place, full of accident and malice, loss and longing, and endlessly surprising. To what lengths will human beings go in order to survive? Can interpersonal relationships be trusted, or is each person essentially alone? What do we lose or gain when we try to leave the past behind? What combination of information and sheer desire allows -- even impels -- us to look to the future with hope? These are some of the questions that the novel raises as Fergus, its central protagonist, struggles to save not only his physical life but also the life of his soul -- his integrity and his capacity for kindness.

There is only one thing that bothered me about The Law of Dreams: now that I've finished it, I don't know what to read next. Most other novels seem limp by comparison. Thank you, Peter Behrens, for a fabulous book.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant, September 6, 2006
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The Law of Dreams is an astonishing excavation of both human vulnerability and resilience. Whether you give a rotten potato for historical fiction, or Irish history, or not, Fergus's story will compel you to keep on with it. The genius of it lies in the author's gift for blending traditional, familiar storytelling with a starker more modern but no less lyrical voice you've never heard before. His characters speak like no others and though a muscular novel, it moves inexorably towards its finish with the lean telling of a short story. Indeed, Peter Behrens is able to bring together seemingly disparate styles of storytelling -- ancient and modern, language-drunk and spare -- and the final effect is one of enduring beauty and relevance. The book tells an archetypal and epic story but perhaps its best bits lie in the dark corners that Behrens illuminates with his particular gift for immediate, sensory detail. While the story is loaded with cinematic action and peopled with a huge cast of characters, private, interior moments of melancholy are equally recognized within the great scope of the author's abilities.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Yarn, August 29, 2009
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Richard Pittman (Toronto, ON Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Law of Dreams: A Novel (Paperback)
The Law of Dreams is a very plot driven book. It moves linearly, the prose is economic and it's a very quick read. I enjoyed it.

It is the story of Fergus O'Brien and follows his life from his beginnings as a dirt poor Irish boy driven away from home by famine. He meets an assortment of harsh characters who are typically desperate and self interested. Some of the characters surprise with their kindness. He moves from his family dwelling to living on the road with a young and desperate gang of boys to a whorehouse in Liverpool to working on the railway in Wales to a ship bound for Canada.

This novel could easily be adapted for a film and does proceed a bit like a film.

In all, I liked it but it's a little light on the implications of the human struggle in favor of plot progression.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing, April 3, 2012
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This review is from: The Law of Dreams: A Novel (Paperback)
This is one of the most extraordinary books I've read in years. I'd never heard of him until recently: he has a new novel and it sounded good, so I decided to read this one first.

Wow. I've never read anything that conveyed the sense of "the past" as brilliantly, or as richly, and "realistically" as this novel. The plot itself is worth the price of admission, but his prose is lush and rich and, as important, reflects the effort he made to be historically accurate.

HIGHLY recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The language carries the book., September 24, 2007
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This review is from: The Law of Dreams: A Novel (Paperback)
The first part of the book --the one dealing with Fergus's stay on land begins with one of the best written chapters of any literature I know. This is a bare language that uses ancient gallic words. Brief sentences that cut and hurt and slice. My problem arose when I did not find the hero likable and when the language--mostly in the second part on ship--veers too often into dialogue. Believe me you will find the best language ever written in the first hundred pages of the book.
Karl Berger M.D.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We are all trying to break out of something.", June 30, 2010
This review is from: The Law of Dreams: A Novel (Paperback)
(4.5 stars) Fergus, the hero of this historical adventure story, feels compelled to keep moving, so that he can stay "in his life" and the past, the dreams, and the memories of the loved-ones, lost since his childhood, can be held at bay. In an impressive blend of fast moving action yarn, a coming of age story, and historical social commentary, Peter Behrens has created a highly absorbing poor boy's Odyssey, that begins during the Irish potato famine in the mid-eighteen hundreds and, after many twists and turns, eventually leads to the New World (Quebec). Behrens's sense of place is beautifully evoked in poetic language as are Fergus's intimate ruminations, making this an extraordinary achievement for a first-time novelist. THE LAW OF DREAMS, deservedly, won the prestigious Canadian Governor General Award in 2006.

Son of a family of poor subtenants - mountain people - eking out a living in County Clare, Fergus O'Brien, has been left an orphan and fugitive following his family's death of starvation and typhoid. The wealthy tenant farmer, reasonable until the potato blight hit his own fields, pressurized by the absentee landlord to evict the mountain people from his land, sends Fergus off to a workhouse in the nearest town...

From there the journey begins, vividly portrayed by Behrens in all its facets. Sixteen year-old Fergus joins one of the violent roaming child gangs (bog boys), falls seriously in love, escapes only by his skin, hits the road again, alone. His growing suspicion and skill to avoid danger and arrest keep him alive. He makes friends, loses them, finds temporary shelter and moves along the road again... Fergus's sense of good, fairness and integrity are sorely tested. Will he be able to hang on to hope through the ordeals he faces? The author effortlessly carries the reader with him for the roller coaster ride. In the hands of a less talented writer, the story could become too melodramatic, repetitive or tedious, not so here. All his characters, diverse and intricately drawn, literally jump off the page, the human struggle for survival is realistically conveyed in all its colours.

Behrens easily fuses action moments with Fergus' sense of dreaming, expressed in brief outbursts of inner dialog. Early on, he muses: "He had always felt deficient here [on the farm]. He had tried to convincing himself he did not but why else the constant self-argument, the tingle of thoughts inside his head rising up like doves off the perch, fluttering and billing, all confusion?"

Having lived his young life on the land and away from cities, his arrival in Liverpool is a revelation: a city of stone. Here also, through Fergus's eyes, Behrens poetic language captures the essence of what he sees. "Streets and squares of Liverpool were organized, fantastic monsters. Building after building, corners, edges, strict angles - he could never have imagined anything so sharply arranged. The limited sky smoldered and slowly lit, providing some depth to the side streets of houses shouldering together. [...] Everything moves quickly here... men carrying grapple hooks, swinging buckets of nails. You could smell the ferocity on the street. - What is Liverpool? A city? A world?"

Yet, an inner drive pushes him on:
"Drop the past. Drop it.
You can't eat it can you.
The old world's crushed.
Life burns hot".

Peter Behrens extensive research into the background and context of the Irish Famine and the lives of those who like Fergus followed such harrowing journeys, driven by the dreams for a better life across the ocean, was inspired by his own great-grandfather's survival, the details of which he knew very little. While literary fiction at its finest, his novel is precise in its historical detail, rich in realistic and fascinating characters and powerful in its evocation of place and time. Reading THE LAW OF DREAMS one can at times be reminded of the writings of Charles Dickens or Emile Zola in terms of the author's ability for sharp social observations. Closest in my view, however, another Canadian author's beautiful and moving novel comes to mind: Jane Urquhart's Away: A Novel. While both novels take the Irish Famine as a starting point, the two novels take very different routes to have their heroes finally reach Canada. They are in many ways, fascinatingly complementary.

Towards the end, however, Behrens's novel seem to be rushing and introducing convenient twists and less believable characters and events. The novel, unfortunately, loses momentum as Fergus comes closer to the North American coast and his arrival in Quebec is short and least convincing. Which leads me, with hindsight to deduct 0.5 stars. [Friederike Knabe]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical language / Hard journey, March 27, 2012
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This review is from: The Law of Dreams: A Novel (Paperback)
The Law of Dreams is a lyrical tale of a young man who is transported in a matter of months from the dutiful son of tenant farmers in Ireland to a starving outlaw fighting for his life in Irish bogs, to a stowaway enroute to Liverpoool, to a railroad builder in Wales, and finally to a ship going to Canada with his American dream. During this time, he is scratching at survival for himself, and occasionally seeking the shelter of those from whom he can learn.

In writing this story, Peter Behren brings the hardships of the mid-19th century Irish plight to life, and through his character Fergus, shows that it is possible to survive even when starved and beaten and challenged at every front. In the end, Fergus realizes that it is every man for himself, that he must seize opportunity when it is presented, and that he can become more than he started as through the lessons learned.

At times this story is a whirlwind of change, and at times a stream slow enough to let you feel the pit in Fergus's empty stomach and the lice sucking their next meal from him. It is hard to imagine that someone who we would consider a child today could survive all this.

This historical novel takes you places that you have not been before, and I certainly enjoyed the ride.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Total grabber!, November 4, 2006
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This is the best Odyssey I have read since "Cold Mountain." You will share Fergus' plight as the young Irish farm lad, bereft of home and family, is swept into the incredible human tragedy of the Irish potato famine of 1847 and makes his way through peril, adventure, every conceivable challenge and trial toward manhood and a possible new life in America. It has all the color, romance, rich characters and comic vibrancy of a wonderful film script, but do yourself a favor and read it before the movie morons ruin it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, January 2, 2008
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This review is from: The Law of Dreams: A Novel (Paperback)
I trawled my local Barnes and Noble for two hours the Sunday before Christmas, determined to find a good book to read over the Holidays. I was just about to give up when I came across The Law of Dreams, the last copy in the store.
I wanted a good story that was well written. After flicking through a few pages in the store I was quickly convinced it was well written. After finishing the book I can now also confirm that it's a great story. Right up there with Zafon's 'The Shadow of the wind'. Just a damn good read and beautifully written to boot.
If you know you have some Irish blood in you and you are in anyway curious about what things were like for your people and what they went through in the 1840s to survive and to get over to America, this really gives a great insight. A very entertaining way to learn a little about the past.
Not just that though. The structure of the dialogue is awesome, really believable. Irish coutry folk have a great way with words and Behren's really captures that. Apart from the structure of the dialogue, the text is also peppered with words that have long been lost, it's great to see they are captured here. Congratulations to Peter Behrens on a great book. Fully deserving of the honours and awards it has won to date.
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The Law of Dreams: A Novel
The Law of Dreams: A Novel by Peter Behrens (Paperback - August 28, 2007)
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