S. D. Chrostowska, 144 pgs, Coach House Books, chbooks.com, $22.95
What value do dreams, imagination, and sleep have in a world where productivity is the highest goal of human life? Set in a dystopian, near-future Paris, The Eyelid is a philosophical short novel that attempts to answer this question.
Our tale is presented by an unnamed narrator recently fired for excessive sleepiness; having dozed off on a park bench, he is awakened by an elderly gentleman named Chevauchet, ambassador to the land of dreams. Chevauchet is desperate for help, as dreams, fantasy, and even sleep itself are at risk of being outlawed for interfering with work.
In this miserable future, “dreaming for its own sake — without some ulterior motive, some enhancement of life — holds no more worth.”
The book’s elegant dialogue, descriptions of Parisian history, and social and philosophical themes bring to mind classics such as Gulliver’s Travels and The Last Days of Socrates, with a bit of 1984 and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman mixed in. Certainly a unique combination, if it weren’t for the references to artificial intelligence, this book could easily have been written in the 1800s. I found it refreshing!
Most of The Eyelid maintains a fairly slow pace, focusing on conversations between the narrator and Chevauchet. While action scenes and thrilling moments are rare, I was intrigued by the strange symbolism, descriptive settings, and thought-provoking ideas. The book is quite short, but the passages within are best absorbed slowly and attentively, and may occasionally require some re-reading.
In my opinion, The Eyelid is a fun little challenge, meant as a dire warning against pushing productivity and exploitative labour ahead of dreaming and creativity. Though it may not be suitable for readers looking for fast-paced action or a deep, twisting narrative, fans of classic literature, philosophy, and social critique should find plenty to appreciate.