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The Dreamers [Paperback]

Gilbert Adair
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 Feb 2004

Paris in the spring of 1968. The city is beginning to emerge from hibernation and an obscure spirit of social and political renewal is in the air. Yet Théo, his twin sister Isabelle and Matthew, an American student they have befriended, think only of immersing themselves in another, addictive form of hibernation: moviegoing at the Cinémathèque Française. Night after night, they take their place beside their fellow cinephiles in the very front row of the stalls and feast insatiably off the images that flicker across the vast white screen.

Denied their nightly 'fix' when the French government suddenly orders the Cinémathèque's closure, Théo, Isabelle and Matthew gradually withdraw into a hermetically sealed universe of their own creation, an airless universe of obsessive private games, ordeals, humiliations and sexual jousting which finds them shedding their clothes and their inhibitions with equal abandon. A vertiginous free fall interrupted only, and tragically, when the real world outside their shuttered apartment succeeds at last in encroaching on their delirium.

The study of a triangular relationship whose perverse eroticism contrives nevertheless to conserve its own bruised purity, brilliant in its narrative invention and startling in its imagery, The Dreamers (now a major film by Bernardo Bertolucci) belongs to the romantic French tradition of Les Enfants Terribles and Le Grand Meaulnes and resembles no other work in recent British fiction.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; New Ed edition (19 Feb 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571216269
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571216260
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 59,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Piquant and riveting' Anthony Burgess

About the Author

Gilbert Adair has published novels, essays, translations, children's books and poetry. He has also written screenplays, including The Dreamers from his own novel for Bernardo Bertolucci.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious Dreamers 8 Jan 2008
Oh, how I loved The Dreamers.

I first became aware of the book when the film came out, which I meant to see but never got around to. Then I meant to read the book, and never got around to that either, not least because I kept forgetting Gilbert Adair's name for some reason. Finally, finally, I read it in one sitting just before Christmas.

The Dreamers follows three young people in Paris in 1968 as civil unrest begins to rumble. The Amazon blurb says:

"A tale of sexual obsession set during the Paris street riots in 1968. The Dreamers is about a young American student who comes to Paris in 1968. Obsessed with film, he becomes involved with two fellow cineastes, a brother and sister whose incestuous relationship opens up to include him in their menage. Cocooned in their apartment the three of them push themselves further and further into excess until the violence in the streets invades their lives with violent consequences."

Which pretty much sums it up. But this short book is written so skillfully that the quickly darkening atmosphere of both the brewing unrest and the increasingly tense and sexual games that the three youths play is dripping from the page. While I am certainly no film buff (the polar opposite in fact) there is a cinematic quality throughout the text, which may be as much to do with the fact that Adair rewrote the 1988 story (originally titled The Holy Innocents) when he was writing the screenplay for the film, as it is to do with Adair's filmy past.

And the sex is only a small part (oh ho! no pun intended! sorry.) in the middle, and while I had a vague fear that it would be completely superfluous - like most sex scenes I tend to think - these didn't seem to be at all.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sexy Gallic Youth Romp 14 Sep 2011
Its often said that the book is always, or anyway, usually better than the film. This isn't quite the case here yet Gilbert Adair's tale of a youthful sexy romp during the Paris student uprising of 1968 does stand on its own when detached from the movie; but only just.

Because of the enormous hype and success surrounding the film any review of the book is difficult as it inevitably has to take second place at the winning post. Yes, it does have a different ending which DOES work. The characters are the book's trump card, simply wonderful and...believable, unlike the film where they are overcooked and Eva Green and the boys are too old for their respective roles.

A short, concise novel that will probably always have to stand behind the film, it evokes a time and a place perfectly. A sexy Gallic romp at a defining moment in the late 20th Century-you can almost smell the French wine and cigarettes. Cest La Vie...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A short text with a weighty concept. Thought-provoking although not explored in enough depth. Highly recommended 24 April 2008
By Juushika - Published on
Matthew, an American student living abroad in France, and the twins Théo and Isabelle are all cinephiles obsessed with the nightly showings at the Cinémathèque Française. When the French government suddenly shuts down the theatre, Théo, Isabelle, and Matthew turn instead to each other: isolating themselves in the twins's flat, they become consumed by theatric and sexual games which cross the boundaries of bisexuality and incest--games which continue until they are violently interrupted by the very real events of the French student riots of 1968. Contrasting the unchecked freedom of youth without society against the reality of violent youth within society, Adair's book is at times idealistic, at times uncomfortably taboo, but always thought-provoking. The limited exploration of the lofty concepts can be disappointing, but on the whole this book explores a meaningful and difficult issue. The Dreamers is an apt companion to the film of the same name and, though it is out of print, more readers should be exposed to it--I highly recommend it.

I was introduced to this book via the film, and was disappointed to learn that it is now out of print. Thankfully, I was able to get my hands on a copy through inter-library loan (from across the United States). This text, The Dreamers, is an "overwritten" version of the original book The Holy Innocents and was released following the film (for which Adair wrote the screenplay). I have not had the chance to read the original text, and I can say nothing of these updates. As it stands, Adair describes the book as the film's fraternal twin--though twins, the works are not not identical. Indeed, they are similar on many points, even down to the film references and some dialog, but the book approaches the various relationships differently: most noticeably, Matthew and Théo have an explicit homosexual relationship which serves as the completion for the complex triadic coupling between the three youths. With these differences, the book and film are companions, each complimenting the other, and fans of one will enjoy the other as well.

Adair's narrative voice is immediately unique and easy to latch on to. His film references, however obscure, are well enough explained in the book to make sense. His characters are at once haughty and insecure, various faces that together create the quintessential youth. These youths come to live a life which overlooks and breaks boundaries and rules--and here the text comes into itself, and details such as writing style and characterization become secondary padding to the novel's primary issues. Although sexual interaction is often less explicit in the book than the film, the trio's relationships in the book are somehow more taboo and can be uncomfortable even for the most liberal reader. The youths self-isolate into a sealed world of their own fantasies, but these fantasies are at times quite dark. Furthermore, the world of rules and boundaries is never truly forgotten, for Matthew retains a fetish for humiliation--and his humiliation is necessary the result of perceived societal rule-breaking. The idealized isolated stasis that the youths try to create is impossible, and it is ultimately broken by the political riots of the outside world: a similar set of ideals, this time put into decisive action--and so creating a violence that fills and ends the book.

I digress... But my point, of course, is that it is these issues--the ideals of dreamers and the various ways that they try and fail to fulfill them--are the heart of the book. Adair does not explore them in nearly enough depth, but with such broad and important themes the necessary depth is also an unapproachable ideal. Instead, Adair conceptualizes a brilliant theme and then explores it as best he can, using intriguing language, film references, and a cast of three unique characters. I do wish for greater depth, and I think that Adair could have achieved some of it if the book and film were less similar, and so were able to deal with more between them. However, I admire the concept behind this book and the brave way that Adair uses taboo issues to address it. It's a short text with a weighty concept, and provides ample food for thought. More people should be exposed to it, and so I recommend the film and also this book, even if it is somewhat difficult to get ahold of.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great, quick read! 2 Sep 2009
By Angela Gustafson - Published on
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When I saw the movie I wanted to know more about where the story came from. I found that is was written by an author named Gilbert Adair who had originally wrote a book that was more racy and perverse titled, "The Holy Innocents" that I would love to read but cannot find it anywhere else but on the internet. "The Dreamers" is a toned down version of "The Holy Innocents" but is still worth the read. I read it in about a day. I really couldn't put it down once I started.
I would recommend it to a friend, but not to a grandmother of course ;)
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Half & Half 13 Jan 2012
By Acacia - Published on
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This novel is a finely made sandwich with a piece of rotten meat in the middle. Adair's prose is solid and beautifully crafted enough that it got me through even the most self serving, pompous parts of the story. I was all on board for the dreamy, incestuous threesome part of the book, but then suddenly the characters were eating cat food, spewing vomit at each other, before finally smearing excrement on themselves like Indian war paint, and I had to finally admit that a level of art house funk had been achieved that I couldn't swallow.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I can't stop! 6 Sep 2011
By Scottie - Published on
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I have bought this book three times. I love it so much, and the second I find someone who may be interested in it, I give it away. I want everyone to read this one. I need to stop doing that because I love it so much, I NEED it for my own collection.
I'll save you my play-by-play analysis of the novel, but just trust me - if you're interested in it at all, you'll love it. It's such a wonderful story. I believe the world is far to consumed with the idea of something as "taboo" to just look beyond societal opinions and preconceptions and just live the life you were given.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dream 2 May 2013
By amanimal - Published on
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This story was as intriguing as the movie with a few differences. Of course with the book there is more third person narration which explains the characters more and helps the reader gain insight into their crazy world.
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