In August, Mayri from Bookforager and I buddy-read A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar. It was our fourth buddy-read together and we again chose a very interesting title to discuss!
As you may know, I am a big fan of Lavie Tidhar and I was very excited to read A Man Lies Dreaming. It was especially fun because it was Mayri’s first encounter with Tidhar’s works so we had different perspectives on the themes and ideas explored in the novel.
As always, our discussions are split into two parts. I highly recommend reading the first part on Mayri’s site here before reading the second half of the discussion.
All caught-up? Let’s continue on with our discussion then…
“‘I am unjustly accused of a crime I did not commit,’ I said. ‘Yes, yes. But since I am sure there are many crimes which you did commit, and of which you have never been accused, don’t you think that rather cancels out?’” Some passages in A Man Lies Dreaming are oddly funny. Did this blend of tone work for you or was it disconcerting to you?
Maryam: Knowing the author and the themes of the book, I was expecting some parts of this book to have some dark humor. However, I was expecting to laugh at Wolf not with Wolf and I was surprised to find some of Wolf’s thoughts and answers quite as sharp and witty as they were. It was both funny and disconcerting because, hey, I don’t want to laugh with Hitler! Still, a few of those quotes made me laugh quite a bit, like this one when Mosley talks about his fear of an attempt on his life: “‘What about your own MI5?’ ‘They’re working on it.’ He lowered his voice. ‘To tell you the truth, sometimes I think the intelligence services don’t take me quite as seriously as they should.’ Wolf suppressed a rare smile. ‘Is that so.’”
Mayri: Oh heck yes, it was funny! And it worked for me. I really didn’t expect to laugh while reading a book about Hitler! But I agree with you that I expected to laugh at Wolf, not with him. Sometimes he’s funny for being ridiculous: “I alone was pure of thought and deed” (this made me laugh, but then I had to put the book under a cushion because I was so angry too!), sometimes he’s almost tragi-comic: “History has passed you by, old chap”, but either way I think the humour plays a valuable role in keeping this readable.
Would you recommend this book to someone and, if yes, who?
Maryam: I enjoyed this book a lot but I don’t know if I could recommend it to someone! Everything about this book is over the top and gross yet, I found a lot of its ideas brilliant. I don’t even know how I would pitch this book to someone. “Well this book is about Hitler if he had failed to take power in Germany and now had to live as a loser in England where he works as a private detective living paycheck to paycheck in the whore’s quarters.” What a hard sell it would be! 😂
Mayri: Ha ha ha! Yeah, I’d be interested to see who’d go for it! I think we agree here. I don’t know if ‘enjoyed’ is the right word for my experience of this book, but it was compelling reading and I admired the way it did what it did. But I can’t think how I’d recommend it, or to whom. Maybe someone studying/interested in history or literature? Someone looking for alt-histories? Yeah, this is a tough question, Maryam!
It’s not really a discussion question but still, I’m curious… Did you guess who the murderer was and if yes, when? 👀
Maryam: I had a suspicion Alderman was the killer when he kept popping up in Wolf’s life like at Mosley’s party. Then during the hospital scene I thought that he was very fishy and that he might very well be the killer. What’s funny is that, like Wolf, I kept on forgetting his name and that I had the same reaction as him when Wolf realized he was the killer.
“‘Oh, it’s you,’ Wolf said. A small smile played on the boy’s face. ‘Yes,’ he said softly. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t quite remember your name’.”
Mayri: (Ha! I enjoyed that Wolf kept forgetting Alderman’s name! More of that odd humour). But to answer your question, no, I had no idea who the killer was going to be. I was actually expecting it to somehow be Wolf in a kind of alter-ego scenario, like he didn’t know he was doing it. This was one of the threads that kept me coming back to the book, even when I was struggling with other aspects of it, and I have to admit to being a bit disappointed that I hadn’t worked out it was Alderman. Because as you say, he kept turning up. I should have seen that. I blame Tidhar for distracting me with nasty sex scenes! Well played Mr Tidhar, well played.
Mayri, you live in the UK so I’m curious to know if Mosley is an important historical figure?
Maryam: I first heard about Mosley when I watched Peaky Blinders and to be frank, I thought he was a fictional character. I was very surprised to see him appear in A Man Lies Dreaming so I googled him and realized that he was a political figure! From what I gathered by reading his Wikipedia page, Mosley failed miserably in his mission to become “the British Mussolini” (thankfully!) but except for the fact that he idolized Hitler and Mussolini, I know next to nothing about him. I wonder if the same thing would have happened with Hitler if he too had failed…
Mayri: He’s not someone who cropped up in my studies much, and I think, if I remember right, I first learned about him because he married one of the Mitford sisters. I definitely knew that he was a Fascist, I knew about the Blackshirts, and I knew that he was ultimately a failure, but I feel like he was mentioned in a side note kind of way when we were studying the Second World War and after. This could just be because I wasn’t paying attention though. I think if you were to say the name ‘Oswald Mosley’ to a random person in the street only about 50% would know something about who he was.
But it’s interesting that you wonder if Hitler would have followed a similar trajectory if he’d failed. I’d like to think that Tidhar brought Mosley into the story as a kind of mirror for Hitler; like the hole that Hitler leaves in his failure in Germany makes Mosley’s rise possible?
Shomer has Wolf suffer again and again, even while solving Judith’s disappearance and the murders of a number of prostitutes. Did you feel sympathy for Wolf’s suffering at any point? How did you feel about him as a ‘hero’? Do you have any thoughts on Shomer’s role in the creation of Wolf’s story?
Maryam: It’s a hard question to answer because my immediate first answer is that no, I didn’t feel any sympathy for Wolf even when he was everyone’s punching ball. However, thinking about it a bit more, maybe I felt a bit of pity for this character. He’s very unlikable yet, he’s such a loser and he’s so beside the mark that it’s hard to completely hate him. He’s very much an anti-hero because his acts are never motivated by what’s just. He only wants to find Judith because the pay is very high, he investigates the murders solely because they happen in his neighborhood and he’s the prime suspect, he masquerades as a Jewish man to escape England. Wolf is not as bad as his real self but it doesn’t turn him into a good guy. I should feel anything for him yet a part of me did. I don’t know if I should thank Tidhar for this or not! 😂
I think making Shomer the creator of Wolf is a smart framing device for the narration because it explains why Wolf suffers so much throughout the story. If the story wasn’t from the perspective of a man dying in a concentration camp, a lot of the gross parts in this book would feel completely gratuitous. However, by reading the story through the lens of Shomer, I was able to understand the treatment of Wolf’s character so much better. (I don’t know if I’m making any sense xD)
Mayri: You’re making perfect sense. 🙂 The only moment I felt any real sympathy for Wolf was when the police were after him for the murders, and I can’t really unravel why I felt that way. Something about him being blamed for something he didn’t do, bothered me. He’s an appalling human being, he holds horrible opinions and beliefs that make me angry and afraid in about equal measure, but still, if he didn’t kill those women then that’s that. I wonder if this is actually more to do with my concerns over ‘justice’.
While I’m saying I never really felt much sympathy for him, I was … impressed? … with how frail and human he is in the book. I think it’s easy to forget that Hitler was a human, his image and deeds make him monstrous, so to see him used as a punchbag, brought him back into the realm of reality. Tidhar mentions Hitler’s suicide in the Historical Note at the end of A Man Lies Dreaming and that made me wonder if part of his monstrous image isn’t down to his having never suffered any punishment for what he did. In that way, all the beatings he takes in this book might give the reader a grim satisfaction, but they are never enough.
We had a great time discussing this book, it’s an odd one to recommend because it’s very graphic, violent and sometimes gross. However, the themes and ideas explored are not something we have seen in other works before and the structure is very unique. Have you read A Man Lies Dreaming? Do you plan to? We would love to know!
Thanks Mayri for being the best book buddy as always! 😀