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Christopher Priest: A Dream of Wessex (US: The Perfect Lover)

A series of earthquakes and land subsidence has caused Wessex to be separated from mainland England. The new island had been left alone till mainland England had realized its potential as a tourist resort and had exploited it accordingly. David Harkman, a social historian, has come to Wessex to study what happened during the period of isolation. He comes to Dorchester, with the past hovering in the background in the form of Maiden Castle, and meets Julia Stretton, selling skimmers (a type of sailboat). What makes this interesting is, as we have learned, that this is all a dream, not the dream of one person but a collective dream, into which various individuals wander in and out but with somewhat different personae from their”real” ones.

The plot is not particularly brilliant but what Priest does effectively is to show us that the boundary between what is dream and what is real is decidedly fuzzy at best, as the characters move between the two and find that their real and dream lives naturally clash. Inevitably, it becomes more difficult to move between the two and they have to decide where to stay but, oh hell, you had guessed that anyway.

Publishing history

First published 1977 by Faber & Faber