WARNING. This post contains spoilers. If you want to read a spoiler free review of the book click here. If you’ve already read the book and you’re up for a discussion about its ending, carry on—
I’m going to start by sharing some of my thoughts about the book, but I would also love to hear yours and discuss them in the comments, if you like.
The two narrators
Reading this book, I started suspecting the even chapters to be a kind of post-apocalyptic future of the uneven chapters about halfway in. However, the revelation that the narrators of the chapters are the same person came as a surprise to me. The dreamreader seems a much friendlier and optimistic person than the calcutec and the way in which he describes the characters around him feels very different. Did the calcutec’s experiences towards the end of the book change his character so much?
The last 36 hours of the calcutec’s existence in consciousness 1 (our world) are quite a thorough examination of what gives life meaning for him. At this point, he is still united with his shadow and thus capable of change. I’d like to argue that this experience makes him a kinder, nicer, less toxic-masculine person, which is what you see reflected in the dreamreader. In addition to this, the dreamreader has been separated from his shadow and is thus only half of who he was. In this sense, reading the calcutec and the dreamreader as different people may still be accurate.
Memory and identity
An important theme in this book is storytelling, and how our identity is made up of the stories we tell ourselves about ourself.
“And what is identity? The cognitive system arisin’ from the aggregate memories of that individual’s past experiences. The layman’s word for this is the mind.”
So by losing their memories the people of the town are losing their identities (side note: is that why they don’t have names?), that is what the fragments in the skulls and the left-behind clothes mean. I really enjoyed the strong symbolism in this part of the story, it made it feel like a fairy tale.
The dreamreader’s ending
I don’t understand why the dreamreader stays behind. Sure, the librarian is very sweet, and she might regain some of her memories in the future, but she is still only an image, his perception of the librarian in the world of the calcutec. The dreamreader feels a responsibility for the town he has created, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t be fine without him (if it even really exists).
Perhaps he stays because he wouldn’t get much out of the ‘real world’ anymore. Perhaps it is only the part of you that changes and develops that appreciates the ups and downs of the world, that can appreciate happiness because of the existence of sorrow and so on. But then why doesn’t he re-unite with his shadow?
This is quite an existentialist book, so the ending is most likely unsatisfying to mirror real life. (Ugh. Real life sucks. :p)
Finishing this book left me with a lot of thoughts and a lot of questions. I very much enjoy being able to speculate, but if you came here looking for answers I might have disappointed you. Feel free to leave a frustrated comment below :).
Do you agree or disagree with me on any of these points? Why do you think the dreamreader doesn’t follow his shadow to the outside world? Do you have any other theories about the book?