The Cure for Dreaming
By: Cat Winters
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Publication Date: October 14th, 2014
Olivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its girls to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud. These supernatural challenges only make Olivia more determined to speak her mind, and so she’s drawn into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist and his mysterious motives, all while secretly fighting for the rights of women. Winters breathes new life into history once again with an atmospheric, vividly real story, including archival photos and art from the period throughout.
Having read In the Shadow of Blackbirds last summer, and having seen this book at the library this summer, I decided I was going to try another Cat Winters book, The Cure for Dreaming. Although I enjoyed the premise of both…the idea of young women captured in supernatural events beyond their complete understanding…I thought the Cure for Dreaming was somewhat lacking in real storytelling, and perhaps heavy-handed in its morals.
Taking place in the middle of the Women’s Suffrage movement, I thought the story would be highly intriguing. The other thing Cat Winters does, it seems to me, is find historically interesting, riotous periods and tie them to supernatural events. The hypnosis also sounded interesting. In addition, it takes place in the Edwardian Period (which, we all know well by now, is one of my favorites). I enjoyed the idea and the setting, honestly, and hoped that enjoyment would carry over to a full enjoyment of the book.
And yet, I wasn’t completely satisfied. The book was a quick read, which drew me in, but after setting it down I couldn’t quite shake a feeling of wanting more. Part of it was the lack of characterisation. Olivia was a reasonably well-thought out character, in that she was searching for independence and scared of what was happening to her. I took issue with Henri, Franny, her father…and, well, most of the other characters in the book.
Several people have pointed out in other reviews that the male characters seem very flat, almost caricature-like. This could be a deliberate ploy on the author’s part, fitting in with the idea of suffrage and freedom versus imprisonment by the patriarchy, but it didn’t feel like a ploy. Rather, it felt like a bit of sloppy writing. Henri showed slightly more character, but he held a wealth of contradictions and unexplained characterisation. Her father had one or two indications of utter monstrosity, but for the most part could have been better explained as a rigid man failing to bend to a changing world–albeit with the problems this causes. And Franny, as the only other female we have a good glimpse of, could have also been better characterized.
Basically, the issue of suffrage is both the core concept and the polarization of the book–and I’m not sure that I liked the polarization. Not that I’m against women’s suffrage, as I quite enjoy voting when I can, but I wish Winters had taken a more nuanced view, rather than all-suffragettes-are-heroes-all-men-are-bad-women-who-don’t-vote-are-empty-headed-little-twits. She could have taken the time to show what had wounded Olivia’s father so deeply, rather than merely portraying him as monstrous. She could also have given some depth to the women who were against suffragism. Winters could have cut out a lot of the stereotypes and written original thoughts instead, leading to a more nuanced work which still emphasized the importance of suffrage.
What I did like was the romance–Olivia and Henry were a cute couple, and rather than being desperately sappy and in love, they both approached things in a way slightly more kind to common sense. I liked how the hypnosis was used, and how Olivia’s visions were incorporated. I think Cat Winters has a charming way of writing setting, which is utterly enchanting and down to earth at the same time. I enjoyed how I got swept up in the story. I simply wish there was more storytelling, less lecturing.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.