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Law of Dreams [Paperback]

Peter Behrens
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 4 2007

Winner of the Governor General's Award for Fiction. Peter Behrens's bestselling novel is gorgeously written, Homeric in scope, and haunting in its depiction of a young man's perilous journey from innocence to experience.

The Law of Dreams follows Fergus O'Brien from Ireland to Liverpool and Wales during the Great Potato Famine of 1847, and then beyond -- to a harrowing Atlantic crossing to Montreal. On the way, Fergus loses his family, discovers a teeming world beyond the hill farm where he was born, and experiences three great loves.


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From Amazon

Set in 1840s Ireland during the potato famine, this realistic and exactingly researched historical novel won the 2006 Governor General's award for fiction. Fergus is a teen when his parents and sisters are burned alive in their hut for refusing eviction by the local English farmer. After being taken to the local workhouse, Fergus flees and joins a band of young people called the Bog Boys who live in a swamp and, "quiet as smoke," scour the countryside for wild hares and bird eggs. Eventually, they attack the local farmer's house and raid his storehouse for butter and meat. Again, Fergus must flee. He emigrates to Liverpool where he is tenderly cared for in a brothel and ultimately leaves to work in Wales building the railroad. Throughout, it is Fergus' connection with horses that pulls him through adventures with thieves, murderers and loving, difficult women. The irresistible draw of America then tempts Fergus and his tough partner, Molly. The forty-day sea voyage to Montreal is harrowing and ends on the quarantine island of Grosse Île. A wealthy fur trader, who lost his own adopted son, helps Fergus escape into the New World where Fergus, now a young man, rides off for the States towing a line of horses that he hopes to sell. Behrens has written an engaging work with lovingly rendered characters. Although it is a simple coming of age story, the author's attention to detail brings the life and times of Fergus O'Brien thrillingly to life. --Mark Frutkin --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Screenwriter Behrens follows his 1987 story collection, Night Driving, with an ambitious epic that follows a hapless wee lad from the rotten potato fields of 1847 Ireland to a New England horse ranch. Fergus O'Brien, the teenage son of a tenant farmer, is sent to a workhouse after his parents are murdered. He quickly escapes, joins a band of brigands and, after raiding his former landlord's farm, drifts to Dublin and then to Liverpool, where he is primed to work as a "pearl boy" (read: male prostitute). He hits the road again, this time settling in Wales, where he works on a rail line and meets Red Molly, a married woman who becomes his lover and traveling companion to America, where he plans to become a horse trader. The book veers dangerously close to melodrama on more than a few occasions, and Fergus, for all the contretemps encountered and indignities suffered, remains thin and unconvincing as a narrator. But readers may be able to overlook Behrens's authorial missteps and enjoy the sprawling, cinematically rendered immigrant story. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Journey not the Arrival Matters April 11 2007
Format:Hardcover
I loved every minute of this book. The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens had me transported instantly to Ireland. Set at the time of the potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century the book is beautifully evocative. My daughter and I spent some time in that part of Ireland and visited the heartbreaking Potato Famine Museum in Skibbereen, but we were most surprised travelling around the country side to see that there were still small stone dwellings dotting the hills, abandoned and unchanged for the past 160 years. The history of the place is everywhere and the unthinkable poverty and squalor in which these people lived is still evident. The novel follows the character of Fergus as he is buffeted through this despairing time like so much flotsam. He is a young man with nothing left to lose and so is willing to risk his life just to be gone from the place. Poverty, starvation, illness, and betrayal are his lot. There is a lot of page turning plot to this novel, but it's really the characters that make it come alive. Even the minor characters stand out in your memory. A really wonderful book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Both a delightful and disturbing read! Jan. 19 2008
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Some Good Reasons for Reading This Book
1. Behrens, an accomplished Canadian writer, weaves a compelling story covering a young man's escape from the indescribable horrors of the Irish Potato Famine of 1847 to the potential allurements of backwoods colonial Canada.
2. Behrens maintains an effective balance between the dreadful realities of Fergus's present suffering and the enchanting promise of a new life somewhere over the ocean.
3. Behrens presents a cast of well-developed characters, who are both believable in their words and actions. Pay particular attention to how the author develops Molly as a character foil for Fergus. It is often in this area that a novel falls apart because a character is off developing his or her own story, rather contributing to the overall flow of the plot. Not the case with this one.
4. Behrens has created a masterful adventure of close calls, heroic action, ignoble behaviour, lusty entanglements, and poetic justice. There are lots of moments in this novel to stimulate the reader's emotional and intellectual needs.
5. From what I can tell, Behrens has produced a fairly accurate description of the culture of the Irish poor of this period as they traveled across the Atlantic on those horrible coffin ships.
6. There is a consistent playing out of the themes of redemption and determination in the story.
Overall, I highly recommend this a must read for those who like to journey through history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We are all trying to break out of something." June 30 2010
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Fergus, the hero of this historical adventure story, feels compelled to keep moving, so that he can stay "in his life" and the past, the dreams, and the memories of the loved-ones, lost since his childhood, can be held at bay. In an impressive blend of fast moving action yarn, a coming of age story, and historical social commentary, Peter Behrens has created a highly absorbing poor boy's Odyssey, that begins during the Irish potato famine in the mid-eighteen hundreds and, after many twists and turns, eventually leads to the New World (Quebec). Behrens's sense of place is beautifully evoked in poetic language as are Fergus's intimate ruminations, making this an extraordinary achievement for a first-time novelist. THE LAW OF DREAMS, deservedly, won the prestigious Governor General Award in 2006.

Only son of a family of poor subtenants - mountain people - eking a living in County Clare, Fergus O'Brien, has been left an orphan and fugitive after his family died of a combination of starvation and typhoid. The wealthy tenant farmer, reasonable until the potato blight hits his own fields, pressurized by the absentee landlord to evict the mountain people from his land, sends Fergus off to a workhouse in the nearest town...

From there the journey begins, vividly portrayed by Behrens in all its facets. Sixteen year-old Fergus joins one of the violent roaming child gangs (bog boys), falls seriously in love, escapes by his skin, hits the road again, alone. His growing suspicion and skill to avoid danger and arrest keep him alive. He makes friends, loses them, finds temporary shelter and moves along the road again... The author effortlessly carries the reader with him for the ride.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Homeric Epic March 5 2008
Format:Paperback
This is a book which is direct and powerful in its style. It is an epic struggle beginning with the principal character, Fergus escaping the Famine in Ireland during the 1800's and his travels until he finally immigrates to Canada. The pace is swift and compelling, drawing the reader to turn page after page to follow the progess of Fergus as he moves through a brutal and unforgiving environment in his quest for survival. It has all the force of Homer's Odyssey, the original tale of escape and discovery of new lands.
Behrens writes without a shred of sentimentality about Fergus who has to let go in order to move on. The story is told as a journey across countries and a journey of the development of Fergus' mind. In doing so the character grows and learns how to make decisions, thereby finding the skills he needs to survive.
The author shows how standing still can be fatal in a changing, evolving world filled with hazards that have to be traversed if not overcome. Fergus repeatedly must shed all that no longer functions for him in search of what does.
This is a great read and uplifting to the spirit for anyone who has faced adversty.
Gordon Bitney, author of PROVENCE, je t'aime.
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