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Fever Dream interview

Fever Dream interview

Samanta Schweblin admits she’s still trembling from the shock of being longlisted for Fever Dream and Megan McDowell says this is pretty much the ultimate prize for a translator.

This is part of our series of Man Booker International Prize 2017 longlist interviews.

 

Samanta Schweblin, author of Fever Dream

What has it been like to be longlisted?

It’s an honour for Fever Dream to have been included alongside authors I hold in high esteem and read with so much admiration, and I feel very grateful for the opportunities that being nominated will bring the book. I’m also aware of the great number and quality of books that are not on the list every year, so I feel very lucky. For me it’s such a huge and unexpected tribute that, though my happiness helps me hide it, I’m still trembling from the shock. 

Can you give us a taste of your longlisted novel Fever Dream – what is it about?

It’s about the tie that binds us to the people we love the most, and the pain and anxiety that this tie can engender in us. Amanda is agonising in a rural emergency room while she tries to understand where her little girl Nina is, and what has happened to her. 

A strange and dark boy is sitting at the foot of the bed where Amanda lies delirious with fever, and, guiding her with the whisper of his voice, he helps her understand the death that surrounds them and reconstruct what has happened over the past days. 

Fever Dream also talks about the abuse—sometimes even lethal—of the agro-toxins in the Argentine countryside, and of the panic that danger can induce in us when we can’t measure or anticipate it. 

After three short story collections, how did you find the experience of writing your first novel?

It was a good experience to move outside of those fifteen or twenty pages I was used to working with in stories. But it was also quite a challenge, because it’s very important to me to narrate with constant tension, it’s something I always seek when I write and also when I read.  I was worried that sustaining the sort of tension that can be imbued in a short story would prove difficult over the course of a novel. I rewrote the first pages of Fever Dream twelve times; it was a complex process that I fumbled several times until I found the way this particular story had to be told. But I learned many things along the way, and I feel like going deep into a longer story opened new doors and lines of questioning in my writing. 

 

Megan McDowell, translator of Fever Dream

What has it been like to be longlisted? 

Surprising, exciting, gratifying. This is pretty much the ultimate prize for a translator, and I feel like being longlisted is a win in itself. And I’m so happy for Samanta, who is a great writer I’m honoured to work with, and who deserves all the prizes. 

What did you like most about translating Fever Dream?

When you read Fever Dream it’s a crazy and suspenseful ride through a dangerously close parallel world. It’s like that to translate it, too. Every time I went through the book I got to spend time in that world, and I kept learning new things about it and seeing new perspectives. I’m a fan of horror and suspense and Fever Dream hits those notes of psychological terror that I find stimulating and intriguing. So I guess what I liked most was just getting to spend time there, thinking about that world and the relationships in it. 

Schweblin’s fiction has been described as creating a ‘deeply unsettling psychological menace’. How easy did you find this to capture?

I hope I did capture it! The important things were to focus on the precision of the language and to make it flow like a conversation. The book needed to invite readers to keep reading hungrily, to dive further and further into these images. I also had to be aware of what was going on beneath the text, the ‘implied’ story that’s taking shape in the reader’s mind. I think that’s where the ‘unsettling psychological menace’ comes from. The book points a flashlight at certain things and leaves others dark, but we can sense the evil lurking in that darkness, we can hear it breathe. 

Keeping all of that in mind, the last line of the book was the hardest. I won’t write it here, but oh, I had many versions of it. I feel like it condenses so much of the book and is subtly jarring, and I wanted it to be powerful in its implications.