The Law of Dreams

Add Peter Behrens' name to the list of writers (Kevin Baker, Joseph O'Connor) who have managed to tell sweeping stories with the horror of the Irish Famine as the backdrop. Behrens' new novel "The Law of Dreams" is an ambitious look at one Famine immigrant's trek across the United Kingdom, before finally making his way to Canada. Behrens' own ancestors fled the Famine. They landed at Grosse Isle in Canada, a quarantine site where a monument to those who did not survive the coffin ships stands today. The Law of Dreams is centered around a teenager named Fergus O'Brien, whose tenant farming family is jolted by the blight of 1847. The O'Brien farm is burned down by their landlord, in one of this novel's many heartbreaking scenes. Young Fergus eventually ends up in a workhouse, seeks revenge on his landlord, and makes his way to Liverpool where he becomes a street urchin/male prostitute. At times sprawling, even downright baggy, The Law of Dreams is nevertheless a highly impressive effort. ($24.95 / 408 pages / Steerforth)

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