The Law of Dreams

Written by Peter Behrens
Review by Lisa Ann Verge

Life burns hot in The Law of Dreams, an exceptional novel about a young man’s struggle for survival during the Irish potato famine. Fergus O’Brien knows only the mountain wastes when the potato blight strikes. Threatened with eviction, the O’Briens stay put – until their death by black fever. Fergus survives and is sent to the workhouse, which he soon escapes. He is hijacked by thieves, has a last confrontation with his landlord, and then falls in with cattle drovers on their way to Dublin. There, among the starving crowds, he takes a boat to Limerick where more trouble awaits. Hungry and battered, he yearns for an existence free of regrets, and a life that is more than a battle for survival. With a little luck and the help of an Irish gypsy girl, he gathers enough coin to pay for passage on a timber ship to Canada. The “law of dreams,” he comes to learn, is always to keep moving.

It is hard to believe that this book is Peter Behrens’s first novel. With the sparest of language, the author depicts the internal struggles of a good-hearted young man in the midst of the unthinkable; a man who learns he must suppress terrible memories in order to move forward; a man who despite all his troubles, still believes in the possibility of a full and passionate life. A moving achievement, The Law of Dreams is a book for the keeper shelf.