The offshore light
(Pamela Frankau, 1952)

I read this months ago, when I could have reviewed it more thoroughly, but the days slipped by and now the details have faded. However, it's an interesting oddity which deserves a mention for its atmospheric writing.

The plot concerns an American diplomat under severe strain, who's persuaded to withdraw from a Paris conference and take a holiday with old friends in the south of France. He uses the time to write a story about an imaginary world with which he's become obsessed, and this story within a story occupies half the book. Some characters, and the scenery, exist in both worlds under different names, and there's a growing tension in both worlds as events move towards climax.

The 'real' world is a familiar enough picture of expatriate society in the south of France — the sort of people so detested by Thorne Smith. The other world is a wondrous strange sf creation of an island paradise which accidentally survived a world nuclear war and instituted a moneyless, no-growth society with various other curious features. The ideas seem naive to me, but the description is powerful.

Occasionally I've had dreams so vivid that, on waking, real life seemed cut from inferior cloth. The dream seemed no less real, and what I was doing in the dream seemed more important than my waking activities. To wake was an annoying and unpleasant interruption, like premature death followed by an inferior reincarnation.

In the book, the same situation clearly exists for the diplomat, and it's very plausibly presented how the dream takes hold and gradually infiltrates its preoccupations and finally its visions into everyday life. This is a madness I can not only understand but sympathise with.

What we interpret as reality is merely what our senses convey to us. We have no evidence that our reality is not itself some kind of dream; and why should we prefer this kind of dream to some other kind, if the other kind gives us more fulfillment? The only advantage of this dream we call reality is that it seems more durable and consistent than the dreams we encounter during sleep. Indeed, that's surely the only basis we have for accepting the one as reality, and dismissing the other as a transient hallucination.

I almost envy the man the achievement of his magnificently sustained hallucination.

Originally published in Thurb 11 in December 1985