Aotearoa Book Memories: Dreamhunter
It's a feeling all booksellers know too well. A book is one of your eternal favourites, you have perfected your sales spiel, you've pressed it into the hands of many a shopper. And then one day, the replenishment order you place never gets fulfilled, and the grim truth dawns on you – it's out of print, and you may never again get the chance to wax lyrical about it to a customer ever again. It made sense, then, to reach out to a bookseller for the second installment of our book memories series – here's Ange Travers of Little Unity in Auckland on one of her all-time favourites, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox*.
Since we reopened at Level 2, a common refrain at Unity Books Auckland from customers and staff alike has been just how much people have enjoyed re-reading their old favourites over lockdown. By necessity or design, many of us rediscovered books we had read years or decades ago... only to be amazed, humbled, terrified, thrilled or broken all over again! But reading up on rereading has led me to mull over what we may not have consciously realised: you actually don’t read the same book twice. It is a different book, a richer one, on each subsequent reading, and a different you too. You'll find yourself surprised by things you had forgotten or missed or were too wrapped up with the narrative to let the words do their actual magic.
By necessity or design, many of us rediscovered books we had read years or decades ago... only to be amazed, humbled, terrified, thrilled or broken all over again!
So the case for rereading is made, but what about when you go to find the book you have meant to read again, and you remember that your neighbour moved to Australia with said book? Or, you raved about its life-changing qualities so much that your daughter finally listened and now the book is ‘hers’ and living in her flat in Wellington? Or worse... it’s out of print in physical form now?
My own personal hell is when a book is out of print and as a bookseller I want to, well, sell it! There is a list of New Zealand books I want to be able to recommend, especially to our YA readers at Little Unity, and the top of the list is Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamhunter and its sequel Dreamquake. First published in 2005 by 4th Estate, this book captured me immediately with its luxurious production and respect for its audience: no cheap covers here, instead, young readers get gatefolds, glossy cover stock and the intriguing image of a beautiful sleeping girl in a dramatically theatrical setting. It also has a heft to it that is often missing in modern YA fiction – notable exceptions would be Philip Pullman and Christelle Dabos. This was a book that made promises and kept them.
This was a book that made promises and kept them.
So, for the purposes of this article, I pulled out my treasured copy which had evaded lending and stealing. Being behind schedule for the deadline I thought a quick skim read should do it. HA! Ridiculous! I was immediately lost in The Place (you can find it on the map in the front pages, and who doesn’t love a literary map?) where the chosen few get to ‘catch’ dreams and sell them to the masses. There is an undercurrent of dread and longing from page one and so, deadlines be damned, I re-entered the world.
Who, indeed, doesn't love a literary map?
Knox is a master of world-building in her fiction; her imagined places are deep and detailed and effortlessly immersive. Though it had been 15 years, I was straight back there, and practically brushing off fine sand from The Place after my first sit down with the book.
Knox’s character development is also finely tuned in these novels. The main characters are cousins Laura and Rose, and I had forgotten how important this relationship is. I feel like cousins make better characters than siblings; they are still highly invested in each other and responsible for one another, but the distance of cousinhood makes them less competitive, more able to forgive, and understand each other’s backgrounds. Family legacies are all important in Dreamhunter and its sequel, both of which have been compared to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. There are similar tropes: strong young women, on a quest to honour their parents and defeat malevolence in often terrifying circumstances. These young women are also smart, sassy, vulnerable and sometimes so brave they are just plain stupid (though that may just be the mum in me coming out!).
Ange's two thoroughly thumbed and loved copies of the two books.
I could go on, but I can’t sell the book because it’s out of print. For now. Maybe not for long? I will be its greatest advocate for a reprint, but that does comes with a plea! Please don’t compromise the original edition’s production values and gorgeous cover, as so many reprints seem to do. Honour the respect that Knox and 4th Estate gave their YA audience. It may not be possible, but in an ideal world there is no need to ‘update’ this one. The covers still hook and beckon and make a bookseller’s job that much easier.
Please don’t compromise the original edition’s production values and gorgeous cover, as so many reprints seem to do. Honour the respect that Knox and 4th Estate gave their YA audience.
And if it helps make the case for a reprint, it would also make a ripping mini-series! I can see Thomasin McKenzie as Laura and they could film it right here in Covid-free Aotearoa without any quarantine issues because the full cast and crew would be New Zealanders, and the Volcanic Plateau would be The Place. Perfect!
So what’s next on my to-read pile? Time to get stuck into the sequel...
*Dreamhunter and Dreamquake may not be available in physical paper copies at the moment, but you can still track them down in ebook or audiobook format.
Ange started her bookselling career at Unity Books Auckland right back when it all began, in 1989 – and while she's stepped away several times over the years to raise her four daughters, she has always ended up coming back. In 2018 she oversaw the opening of Little Unity, where she is the manager and buyer.