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The Faculty of Dreams

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In April 1988, Valerie Solanas - the writer, radical feminist and would-be assassin of Andy Warhol - was discovered dead in her hotel room, in a grimy corner of San Francisco. She was only 52; alone, penniless and surrounded by the typed pages of her last writings.

In The Faculty of Dreams, Sara Stridsberg revisits the hotel room where Solanas died, the courtroom where she was tried and convicted of attempting to murder Andy Warhol, the Georgia wastelands where she spent her childhood, and the mental hospitals where she was interned.

Through imagined conversations and monologues, reminiscences and rantings, Stridsberg reconstructs this most intriguing and enigmatic of women, articulating the thoughts and fears that she struggled to express in life and giving a powerful, heartbreaking voice to the writer of the infamous SCUM Manifesto.

338 pages, Paperback

First published January 20, 2006

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About the author

Sara Stridsberg

33 books296 followers
Sara Stridsberg is a Swedish author and translator. Her first fiction novel, Happy Sally, was about Sally Bauer, the first Scandinavian to swim the English Channel.

In 2007, she was awarded the Nordic Council's Literature Prize for her novel Drömfakulteten (The Dream Faculty), which is her second novel and a fictitious story about Valerie Solanas, who wrote the SCUM manifesto, which Stridsberg has translated into Swedish.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 254 reviews
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,130 followers
October 14, 2019
Fierce and foul, one of the most confronting books I’ve read in quite some time, The Faculty of Dreams (aka Valerie) is a novel about Valerie Solanas, the woman who wrote the SCUM Manifesto and shot Andy Warhol.

Except it isn’t, not really. It’s much more complex than that. This is not a biography, neither is it a straightforward fictionalised account of Solanas’ life. The author describes it as a ‘literary fantasy’. It warps and distorts the biographical details, it is disorienting and metafictional. For example, Solanas’ hometown of Ventnor City, New Jersey is misnamed and misplaced and becomes Ventor. In the desert. In Georgia.

The form alternates between second person narration (‘you’ being Valerie), dialogues and excerpts from court reports and psychiatric evaluation transcripts. It jumps around in time. The text is outré, not shying away from filth, bodily functions, ugliness of all kinds. Blood, stench, prostitution, child sexual abuse. ”The sky above Ventor is the same pink as a sleeping tablet or old vomit.” “The hotel sheets are dirty, gray with age, and foul-smelling, urine and vomit and vaginal blood and tears.”

There is poetry here too and flashes of dark beauty: “My heart beats red, beats blue, beats rage”, “Her eyes are black mirrors. Her heart is a bruise”. The imagery and repeated motifs are striking: roses (being dug up), white dresses (no longer white), Warhol dissolving into white backgrounds, magnesium flaring.

The narrative is chaotic, it whirls and hopscotches, the timelines blur. Some sections are bulleted lists, sometimes Stridsberg just free associates. She quotes the lyrics of ‘Doll Parts’ by Hole. Valerie talks in riddles and word salads. It is a depiction of mental illness and unbridled rage. The characters are all chimeras. The whole thing might be Valerie’s deathbed hallucination.

The novel’s audacity is, at first, a thrill. These words have power, they sting, they will shake you up. Then the adrenalin wears off as you acclimatise to this book’s style, and the effect becomes… sadness. This is a sad story.

Solanas’ radical feminism is hard to take. She is relentlessly angry. She calls men ‘a biological mistake’ and ‘walking abortions’. The book does not glamourise Valerie or excuse her actions in shooting Andy Warhol. Nothing could be less glamourous than what is depicted here. Besides, this Valerie is fictional. And her story is one of tragedy, rather than rebellion.

What is Stridsberg’s aim here? Merely to provoke? Acting the provocateur as a tribute to Solanas? Maybe it’s to make a point about the way, through literature, we consume other people’s lives. The end result is quite brilliant, if you can stomach it. That’s a big if.
Profile Image for Ova - Excuse My Reading.
474 reviews361 followers
April 9, 2019
This was so difficult to read.

It's nightmarish - there's a tonne of disturbing content in it. But on the other hand- the way it's written is mesmerising. you cannot drop the book. You swirl into the story- although it makes you uncomfortable.

I want to avoid saying I liked it- because I kind of hated it, but I loved it. Does this make sense?
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
April 10, 2019
Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019
edited 9 April - I can't believe this one missed out on the shortlist!!

This is a vibrant, visceral reimagining of the life and legacy of Valerie Solanas, the radical feminist whose 15 minutes of notoriety came in 1968 when she shot and almost killed Andy Warhol.

Stridsberg gets her disclaimer in from the start: "The Faculty of Dreams is not a biography, it is a literary fantasy derived from the life and work of Valerie Solanas, American, now deceased. Few facts are known about Valerie Solanas and even to those this novel is not faithful..."

The first part Bambiland is grimly compulsive, mixing the sad stories of her lonely death with her lonely and abusive early childhood.

The story really picks up in the third part when she goes to university in Maryland and meets her partner and inspiration Cosmogirl (Anne Duncan), a fearless feminist whose mother is on death row in California, and the inspiration for the S.C.U.M. manifesto (the acronym stands for Society for Cutting up Men), which advocated the total removal of men, which they believed possible from observations on laboratory mice.

The final parts deal with how she was drawn into and discarded by Andy Warhol's Factory.

The text is a collage of fragments, and is rarely a comfortable read, but as a feat of imagination it works brilliantly and I believe it will remain in the memory. A strong contender for the prize.
Profile Image for Antonomasia.
973 reviews1,201 followers
May 9, 2019
I didn't expect to like this as much as I did. I would have steered clear of it if I hadn't pledged to read all of this year's International Booker longlist. At best, I thought I would have a grudging respect for the book in all its grimness.

Valerie Solanas had an exceptionally tough life, as her attorney explains in the novel:

FLORYNCE KENNEDY: On June 10, 1968 I was appointed public defense counsel in the case New York State versus Valerie Solanas. I described Valerie as one of the most important campaigners for the modern women’s movement. Dr Ruth Cooper at Elmhurst Psychiatric Hospital in New York described Valerie as brilliantly intelligent and . . . and Andy Warhol didn’t actually die, he was only injured, he survived and he kept on being wealthy and making bad art, even though he didn’t make a full recovery . . . There was her unhappy childhood . . . raped by her daddy when she was seven . . . raped six times before she turned eighteen, her mother abused and raped by an undisclosed number of men in the desert, homeless at the age of fifteen, working as a prostitute, drug addiction, mental disorders, repeated rapes in connection with prostitution…

(Kennedy was a remarkable figure in her own right, a black radical feminist and pioneer of intersectionality who graduated from law school in the early 1950s.)

Never having read Solanas' SCUM Manifesto, my main impression of Valerie was via Mary Harron's 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol, which I saw back when it was on cinema release. Lili Taylor's portrayal of Solanas captures anger and vulnerability, but this book contains far more of both squalor and poetry.

Faculty of Dreams starts at the end, as Solanas dies in visceral detail, slowly and messily, in a San Francisco hotel for the homeless in 1988. Scenes then shift back and forth between several key periods in her life: childhood in the fictional desert town of Ventor, Georgia; holidays and adolescence in Florida; university in Maryland; writing and hanging out at the Factory in New York; talking with a female psychiatrist while remanded in a secure hospital; and death rattles in the Bristol Hotel, SF. Much of the story is related in a semi-delirious prose poetry which I found hypnotic and fluid - but it would be understandable if some readers find it repetitive, as the same lines and concepts recur again and again through the book. It often uses the second person, but I never found this invasive as I have in some novels, e.g. Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveller. (Though, of course, in Faculty of Dreams, the combination of second person with the already harrowing subject matter could be triggery for some readers at the wrong time.) To me it always felt like the voice of the (omniscient) narrator was talking to Valerie as "you". She also speaks with her directly in several of the book's scenes that are set out as playscript. Some of these conversations comment on the writing process and the book:

VALERIE: …Giving up isn’t the answer, fucking up is.
NARRATOR: I only wish I knew how to fuck all this up.
VALERIE: Artificial historiography. The story of the whore and mental illness. Of the American underwater population.
NARRATOR: And the question of identity?
VALERIE: Non-identity is the answer…
There are no given identities, there are no women, there are no men, no boys, no girls. There’s only a little puppet show. An endless shitty play with a shitty script.
NARRATOR: So it mustn’t end like this?
VALERIE: You’ll have to write something new, baby-writer, you’ll have to find new endings.

On the question of fucking with identity: this is a fictionalised Solanas. Her parents are still called Dorothy and Louis, as they were in real life; she still studies psychology at the University of Maryland; she still shoots Andy Warhol and is incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals; and she really did die in the Bristol Hotel in 1988. But between these landmarks Stridsberg creates what she describes in introduction as "a literary fantasy derived from the life and work of Valerie Solanas … Few facts are known about Valerie Solanas and even to those this novel is not faithful… This also applies to the map of America, there being no deserts in Georgia". (Real-Valerie was from New Jersey, not Georgia.)

I needed to understand what was and wasn't fictional here: I didn't want to one day read a factual discussion about Solanas and unwittingly relate it to invented material from a novel. And a few weeks ago, I embarrassed myself by posting a review of a Mathias Énard historical novel without carefully checking how much of the book was made up. So, thanks to Wikipedia and Breanne Fahs' biography of Valerie, I saw that she often lived with her grandparents during her teen years, and ended up having two babies before she turned 16 - not in a trailer park with a friend who was a rent boy, greedy for drugs and pretending to be brother and sister, as she does in the novel. (His main sugar daddy has a surname only one letter different from Dorothy's maiden name.) Some of the quoted interviews are real, some are not. As the name of an important university classmate, Ann Duncan, appeared, I searched. Was she going to be based on a minor 1950s actress, or possibly murderer Elizabeth Ann Duncan, or was she nothing to do with either? It was fun watching the character's identity emerge from the haze, forming into a fictional daughter of Elizabeth Ann.

In the two fictional companions, brother-in-arms Silk Boy, and her university girlfriend and fellow proto radical feminist Cosmogirl (Ann Duncan) - their nicknames perhaps oblique references to characters in Solanas' play Up Your Ass, which she alleged Warhol stole - Stridberg has granted Valerie close comradeship which she seems to have lacked in real life. This is a kindness. Although if considering the aetiology of her later life - and this is after all a novel about someone who was once a star student in her psychology class, who liked to analyse people herself - it fucks with the story in another way too. If real Valerie had had these important attachments for a few years each, as her fictional incarnation had, perhaps she wouldn't have shot Andy Warhol.

To what extent were Valerie's opinions the result of the life she grew up in? An impossible question to resolve fully. But one that means a reader not aligned with radical feminism could see this novel as showing how life experience combines with temperament to create opinions. Whereas a radical feminist may take Solanas' life story as a series of events that shows an urgent need for their philosophy. Fahs' biography states:

As Jane Caputi, a radical feminist who met Valerie in the mid-1970s and currently chairs the women and gender studies program at Florida Atlantic University, claimed, "It’s not as simple as the abuse leads to the manifesto, that you’re filled with rage and that leads to things directly. But those experiences do take away the illusions. Those abuses don’t prescribe seeing through things, but they do affect things. That is one response to abuse, where you continue contact or are filled with rage. At the same time, you take it out on yourself."

At any rate, Valerie's rants and black-humoured quips sound like lines uttered by young feminists on social media now, half ironic, half serious. Stridsberg's novel was first published 12 years ago in Sweden, but this is a timely translation to English: over the last few years intersectional feminism has become a stronger part of popular culture, and once radical ideas more mainstream. Sara Strisdsberg's was one of those who resigned in protest from the blighted Swedish Nobel Literature Academy in 2018, part of the international #metoo movement. (As was pointed out recently in a discussion thread, #metoo, as well as a movement to stop sexual harassment and assualt, is a reaction to established male creatives controlling and squashing upcoming female artists' works - as Solanas felt Warhol was doing to her.) Aspects of 1970s-style radical feminism - in relation to gender and prostitution - are among the most contentious political battlegrounds of the present day, and Solanas' life as a radical feminist *and* sex worker is especially complex in the light of this. She talks of "pussy-souls" but says "My pussy is not my soul" - a partial contradiction of the biological essentialism associated with conservative radical feminism now. This novel finds itself in a longlist on which eight out of thirteen books are by female authors; the literary women in translation movement, aiming to redress a major gender imbalance in which novels get translated, may be starting to pay off.

There was a time a few years ago when I regularly typed "I am not a radical feminist" in online debates, as a shorthand for where I stood. Looking at the history of 1960s-70s radical feminism while reading this book in 2019, I was struck by how many of its general principles, via their adoption by contemporary intersectional feminism, I had recently made my peace with and accepted as applicable to wider society. Whilst they still seem to say little about my own experiences or those of my emphatically matriarchal family, I had been induced to see how they are relevant structurally.

This is a remarkable translation by Deborah Bragan-Turner: it felt as if the English was the original work (though the book's American subject contributes to this impression). US experimental novels get up to all sorts, so why not transpose a coastal town in New Jersey to an imaginary desert in Georgia? Otherwise, just about the only hint that this novel was originally from any place other than the country where it was set was the use of British 'postgraduate' where Americans say 'grad student'. Allusions to lyrics by Nirvana ("I hate myself but I do not want to die"), early Manic Street Preachers ('Of Walking Abortion') and Hole ('Doll Parts') lurked within, reflecting Solanas' state of mind and her cultural influence, but also cementing a sense of the book's belonging in in English.

Faculty of Dreams reminded me of works in English, works which may not be the most apposite references when reviewing a Swedish book. Firstly, Canadian Elizabeth Smart's intense novel in prose poetry By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945), which sweeps the reader along with its protagonist's emotional tumult during a straight love affair. I found both books similarly hypnagogic and dense: it felt like I had read and experienced a lot through the characters, yet I was reading far more slowly than I thought; it was repetitive yet I never wanted to question its repetitiveness. As if time was gathering in still puddles, and I didn't mind. Except when I noticed how many days I'd been reading Faculty of Dreams (six, eventually), when I'd aimed to finish the book in two. (There is, presumably, also a Scandinavian tradition of prose-poetry. I've read recent examples by Dane Josefine Klougart, but don't know about her predecessors.) The Faculty of Dreams shares with 1980s Northern English feminist play My Mother Said I Never Should, by Charlotte Keatley, a habit of bold, declarative, sometimes non-sequitur sentences about common female experiences - as well as scenes in playscript format, shifts back and forth in time, and a minimalist order and tight structure imposed by the author on a potentially chaotic story. And I kept hearing the wonky, unglamorous, downright silly sound of Bowie's Andy Warhol - it's closer to the DIY feel of this book, and of Solanas' calmer ramblings, than it is to Warhol's smooth plastic pop-art and iconographic image. (Warhol also hated the song.)

Perhaps my favourite set of chapters in the book (and also something of a break from Valerie's suffering) were the lists - several themed sections in which free-associated aspects of a subject were set out in 26 paragraphs 'numbered' with letters of the alphabet, such as these from 'The Presidents', a partial history of feminism:
I. There were only superwomen. It was the second wave. They were all courageous, they all loved sucking cock. Passion. Obviously, I knew they were laughing at me.
(Billed as "Daddy's Favourite Girl Gloria", Steinem appears elsewhere in the text: the conventionally attractive liberal feminist, tries - unsuccessfully of course - to persuade Valerie towards mainstream feminism. Valerie derides liberal feminists who include men; feminist controversies go in cycles, and I was reminded me of the anger towards Emma Watson's HeForShe project.)
J. Suffragettes. One by one they joined the underworld. Lung cancer, heart attacks, shark attacks. The inquests never ended. Formalities were set aside. It was overrun with weeds around the house…
M… Fuck you Miss Pankhurst. The white blouse. That was 1913. I had seen her on Fifth Avenue. The next summer she died from her injuries at the racecourse.

Just as the second-wavers are the older generation nowadays, (and many music stars of the 60s are dying off) so we see the Suffragettes stand at the same distance from the feminists of Valerie's age. Imagery of Emily Wilding Davidson recurs - the Suffragette who famously threw herself in front of the king's racehorse: an implicit analogy to Valerie in sacrificing herself to her cause, but with a clear coherent decision that is now widely respected.

Back in the mid-90s before the I Shot Andy Warhol film was released, the impression of Valerie Solanas I'd got from pop culture was that she was kind of embarrassing. There was punk and there was punk. This could be seen as the view of a male-dominated entertainment press, but I for one didn't have a problem with them. And it's not just that - there are radical feminists who disavow her too. Mary Harron's film humanised her, but I'd rarely thought about her since, except when I watched Warhol's Chelsea Girls and read a little about the Chelsea Hotel and the Factory. I'm not sure I'd ever known how brilliant she had been when she was young, enough to be awarded scholarships despite the sort of teenage years that would derail most people. But the legacy of her early life, and perhaps the lack of the right support (whether socially, or therapies and understandings of trauma that barely existed yet) meant she did derail eventually, and with spectacular destructive effects on herself and the New York art world. I never thought I would be so moved by Valerie Solanas, and that her life was such a string of might-have-beens and nearlys; if only things had been a little less bad in her circumstances or epigenetics or something, and she'd been an outrageous radical feminist psychology professor, or a writer and activist shouting things up even today, online.

Stridberg is a bit late in the story with the if-onlys. Perhaps, by the time Solanas was on her way with the gun to find Warhol, she was too far gone mentally to have the potential to become more than a bit less of a mess than she ended up by shooting him. But it was wonderful that the book articulated this:

This is the beginning of the end, Valerie. The moment you shoot Andy Warhol, you throw away all possibility of being someone other people listen to, the only thing you dream about, writer, artist, revolutionary, psychoanalyst, rebel. There are so many options, there is a world that can be yours out there, if only you drop the weapon and leave. Remember, Valerie, this is New York, it is 1968 and you have your university degree, your wild heart, your rich talent of raw poetry and a fantastic sense of humor. You can do whatever you want. In a few years’ time the women’s movement will move into the universities and everywhere women’s cafés will appear, reading circles, feminist groups, and in San Francisco half a million women will demonstrate, dressed in white, in protest against sexual politics based on fear and systematic rape. A radical women’s movement will grow up and radical sexual politics. There will be a place for you there, Valerie. The new age will be your age.

If this sounds like a 5-star review, it is in a way. But I have to love a book to give 5 stars these days, and this had a bit too much horror. It is all brilliantly done for what it is - if you like this sort of writing (which not everyone does).

In the context of the 2019 MBI longlist, it's interesting to look at Faculty of Dreams alongside The Years and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. In these - three of the five most substantial books on the list - there's an apparent resurgence of literature about people (women) who were young in the 1960s, the late Silent Generation or early Boomers. From 2013 onwards, when Eleanor Catton won the English language Booker, prize lists had more and more young authors, and the stories of those who were young adults in the 1960s and 70s (people now in their 70s), stories which readers had been hearing for decades, often took a back seat. This crop of three excellent books, all published in their original languages in the second half of the 00s, has appeared coincidentally together a decade later in English: a sort of time-capsule or throwback, but a very worthy one. In their activism, anger and imagined utopias, the protagonists seem similar to those who are young now. (More so than to us cynical late Gen-Xers who were that age during the West's quiescent Third Way years of the 90s and 00s.) There are closer parallels again between Plow and The Faculty of Dreams: each presents a character who'd be commonly regarded as a dangerous crank, in a sympathetic, yet unvarnished portrait. Each book shows that her causes and views have a good point, even if she takes things too far. Tokarczuk's novel shows the tension and contradiction in this project and struggles to make it cohere - although it manages to have both readability and intellectual depth. But, regardless of Stridberg's poetic style, the Swedish book pulls it off, and in doing so makes something difficult look easy, when set alongside Plow. Faculty of Dreams may not be the most comfortable reading, but I could see why it won the Nordic Council Literature Prize - which includes work from all Nordic countries, and how credible it seems (from the small-ish sample of Swedish literature I've read) that it "was voted as the best Swedish novel from the 2000s (decade) in a poll held by the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, which involved one hundred Swedish critics, authors, journalists and publishers" (Wiki).

I requested and received a free advance review copy from the publishers, Maclehose Press (an imprint of Hachette UK). Thank you.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,211 followers
March 25, 2019
I’m sorry I missed. It was immoral to miss. I should have done more target practice.

I think you are the saddest girl I have ever met. There are no paths in the dark. There is nothing to tell. I cannot tell you how sad I am. I cannot talk about it. It is not possible to think outside your thoughts.
The narrator

Book 11/13 from the Man Booker International and my favourite so far.

'The Faculty of Dreams: Amendment to the Theory of Sexuality OR Valerie' has been translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner from Sara Stridsberg's Swedish-language original Drömfakulteten: - tillägg till sexualteorin. It is a fictional retelling of the story of Valerie Solanas (1936-1988), author of the SCUM Manifesto, self-published in 1967, and who, 0n June 3rd, 1968 shot and almost killed Andy Warhol. The SCUM manifesto memorably opens:
Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.

It is now technically feasible to reproduce without the aid of males (or, for that matter, females) and to produce only females. We must begin immediately to do so. Retaining the male has not even the dubious purpose of reproduction. The male is a biological accident: the Y (male) gene is an incomplete X (female) gene, that is, it has an incomplete set of chromosomes. In other words, the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples.
Stridsberg's novel was originally published in 2006 winning the highly prestigious 2007 Nordic Counsel's Literature Prize (other winners in the 2000s include novels from Per Petterson, Lars Saabye Christensen, Sjón, Sofi Oksanen, Naja Marie Aidt and Jan Kjærstad.) This essay sets the novel in the context of Stridsberg's work: https://nordicwomensliterature.net/20...

Its publication now, in 2019, in English is particularly apposite given, as a fellow Goodreader J pointed out, the revival of interest in radical and queer female writers such as Berg, author of Berg, and Kathy Acker, subject of Olivia Laing's Crudo as well as the #metoo scandal. On the latter, Sara Stridsberg was elected to the Nobel Prize Committee in 2016, serving on the jury that awarded the prize to Kazuo Ishiguro, but resigned at the end of 2017 over the Jean-Claude Arnault scandal, in solidarity with Sara Danius.

The Faculty of Dreams itself is a innovative reinterpretation of Solanas's life and manifesto and indeed the art of fictional biography itself. It begins:

The Faculty of Dreams is not a biography, it is a literary fantasy derived from the life and work of Valerie Solanas, American, now deceased. Few facts are known about Valerie Solanas and even to those this novel is not faithful. All characters in the novel should therefore be regarded as fictional, including Valerie Solanas herself. This also applies to the map of America, there being no deserts in Georgia.

and indeed in this treatment the fictional Valerie is born not in Ventnor, New Jersey but 'Ventor', in the non-existent desert of Georgia; the real-life Solanas had a sister, Judith, and had a child when she was c.16, fathered by a married man, which was taken away for adoption, but neither feature in the novel.

The narrator of the novel imagines herself with Valerie in her dying days in a seedy hotel in San Fransisco:

A hotel room in the Tenderloin, San Francisco’s red-light district. It is April 1988 and Valerie Solanas is lying on a filthy mattress and urine-soaked sheets, dying of pneumonia. Outside the window, pink neon lights flash and porn music plays day and night.

On April 30 her body is found by hotel staff. The police report states that she is found kneeling by the side of the bed. (Has she tried to get up? Has she been crying?) It states that the room is in perfect order, papers neatly piled on the desk, clothes folded on a wooden chair by the window. The police report also states that her body is covered with maggots and her death probably occurred around April 25. Some weeks earlier, the report goes on to say, someone on the hotel staff had seen her sitting by the window, writing.

I imagine piles of paper on the desk, her silver coat on a hanger by the window, and the smell of salt from the Pacific. I imagine Valerie in bed with a fever, attempting to smoke and make notes. I picture drafts and manuscripts all over the room . . . sun, perhaps . . . white clouds . . . the desert’s solitude . . . I imagine myself there with Valerie.

Stridsberg narrator circles back through Solanas's (at times imagined) life, but always returning to the hotel room where she at times she addresses Solanas in the second person. and others has a dialogue with her, presented in the form of an interview or playscript (and indeed Stridsberg went on to write a play, Valerie Jean Solanas ska bli president i Amerika (Valerie Solanas for President of the United States) based on the story:

VALERIE: I don’t want to have a religious funeral. I want to be buried as I am. I don’t want them to burn my body when I’m dead. I don’t want any man to touch me when I’m dead. I want to be buried in my silver coat. I want someone to go through my notes after my death.

NARRATOR: My faculty of dreams—

VALERIE:—and no sentimental young women or sham authors playing at writing a novel about me dying. You don’t have my permission to go through my material.


(The narrator picks at the flowers.)

A second, interspersed, narrative strand, takes us through the aftermath of the shooting of Warhol, starting with Valerie's arraignment at the Manhattan Criminal Court that day, to her eventual commitment to Elmhurst Psychiatric hospital in 1969, and her three years in prison from 1969-1971, again largely told through playscript style transcripts of court proceedings, discussions with her lawyer and psychological evaluations. These sections also draw heavily on the SCUM Manifesto, as well as, as a secondary source, Freud's Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

A third strand has scenes returning to Valerie's life up the shooting, with lyrical narration told in the second person, and split into five chronological sections:

“BAMBILAND” (1945-8) - her childhood with her mother Dorothy in the desert

“THE OCEANS” (1951-5) - her youth, and her love for 'Silk Boy' in Alligator Beach, Florida

“LABORATORY PARK”(1956-63) - her student days at the University of Maryland, where she has a strong relationship with a fellow research student 'Cosmogirl'

“THE FACTORY” (1967-8) - her time in New York in the late 1960s and first involvement with Warhol, including the publication of the manifesto and her role in his movie I, A Man (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPQVt... - the accent here definitely not from Georgia)

“LOVE VALERIE” (May -June 1968) - the deterioration of both her mental condition and her relationship with Warhol and his acolytes, leading up to the shooting

The narration features a number of recurrent motifs and symbols: for example the Florida section features male seahorses (perhaps a code for the 'Men's Auxiliary' of males who serve at least some purpose and so will be exempt from the SCUM's initial killing of all men) and sharks (other men). Two colours predominate: silver, including Warhol's famous wig, and rose-pink, which first features on the garden seat on which her father, Louis, repeatedly rapes the child Valerie:

He was a jumbled agony of tears and lust and the seat cover fabric was a mesh of wild pink roses that Dorothy had embroidered at nights and I counted the roses...

A sample passage from “THE OCEANS”:

The ocean thunders around you, words drown in the waves and the blinding white light shifts into something softer. The sky and the sand turn to muted pink and the beach will soon be empty of bathers again.
You keep on reading your seawater-warped books and Dorothy keeps on vanishing behind her sunglasses, keeps on forgetting. Her cigarettes always burn out on the sand as she falls asleep, her dreams invaded by black underwater trees and black luminescence, constantly descending. When she falls asleep on the beaches of Alligator Reef she dreams about someone no longer wanting to be a mother, and she wakes every time with suffocating heart and salty wet globs in her mouth. Her hand moves on the sand and in her dream and the underwater world there is no shriveled foal, knowing it is going to die, but persisting, still a sticky mucilage around its mother, constantly letting itself be kicked away, for the warm taste of her milk like a watermark on its fur, its mouth filled with black ants. She picks up her book and tries to read, but she is robbed of concentration by the ocean, and still more by her pocket mirror, nail file and cigarette, and most of all by her way of looking furtively over your shoulder at your book.

As an example of how Stridsberg fictonalises, Valerie's female lover and soulmate at university,
"Cosmogirl" - is called Ann Duncan, her mother Elizabeth on death row, facing execution just before (as the narrator knows) the Supreme Court will temporarily halt executions in the US in 1972.

Elizabeth Duncan loved getting married. She and Cosmo crisscrossed America in search of handsome, dark-haired men to whom she pledged large sums of money in return for marrying her. And later, when they wanted the marriage annulled, she carried on to a new state and wed again. And when the money ran out, as it always did, she sent pregnant girls to the doctor and claimed it was her, and then sued her ex-husbands for child support.

VALERIE: What’s she sentenced for?

COSMO GIRL: Murdering two of her new husbands with arsenic.

VALERIE: Is she guilty?

COSMO GIRL: Very guilty, I suspect.

Elizabeth's story in based on the real-life Elizabeth Ann Duncan, the last woman to be executed in California before the 1972 halt. But (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabe...) the real-life character had a son, not a daughter, and was executed for murdering her pregnant daughter-in-law, not her husbands.

And the narrator keeps returning to the central questions she has:

NARRATOR: I keep thinking of your wild-animal language, of your time at the university. Then I think about New York and the Factory. Questions central to this novel. Why did you stop writing? Why did you leave Maryland? Why did you shoot Andy Warhol?

but this is never answered definitely, since this is, as Javier Cercas refers to in his The Blind Spot: An Essay on the Novel, a novel not a biography:
The novel is not the genre of answers, but that of questions: writing a novel consists of posing a complex question in order to formulate it in the most complex way possible, not to answer it, or not to answer it in a clear and unequivocal way; it consists of immersing oneself in an enigma to render it insoluble, not to decipher it (unless rendering it insoluble is, precisely, the only way to decipher it). That enigma is the blind spot, and the best things these novels have to say they say by way of it: by way of that silence bursting with meaning, that visionary blindness, that radiant darkness, that ambiguity without solution.

Thanks to Machelose Press for the ARC.

4.5 stars - rounded to 5 as the outstanding book from this year's MBI and one that would repay both re-reading and further investigation into the real-life Solanas.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,482 followers
January 11, 2020
We have had the movie already

- Mary Harron’s neat indie from 1996 is everything I thought I needed to know about Valerie Solanas - and if I needed more detail I could read the biography :

But Swedish author Sara Stridsberg thinks there’s a lot been left unsaid and gives us what I guess is a re-imagining of the life and crime of Valerie Solanas, in which narrative energy is tossed aside in favour of repetitious incantatory dissociative scortatory rantings, world-loathing blatherings and rancid vomitaceous outputherings of bile by the righteously furious Valerie-valkyrie of whom it could be said that never walked the earth another being who held half of the human race in such low esteem.

Valerie formed the imaginary Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM) and wrote a big manifesto, as you probably know. It points out that all men are highly injurious to all women and if they all died tomorrow it wouldn’t be the worst thing, in fact we might look into the possibility. If men were a race then Valerie preached genocide.

She came out with some zingers :

If they could put one man on the moon, why not all of them?

and, after the assassination attempt :

I couldn’t take living like a lobotomized brood cow, and the world around me couldn’t take that.

Well, there were never any other members of SCUM apart from Valerie but if there was one other member it would have been Aileen Wuernos, a woman whose aim was way better than Valerie’s.

Reporter to Valerie: It looks like Andy Warhol will recover completely.
Valerie : I should have done target practice.

And if there was ever a third member, it would have been Andrea Dworkin. They were different, these three, but similar. Andrea was heavy rock, Aileen was sweet country all the way and Valerie was pure punk. Girlschool, Patsy Cline and The Slits.

Along with the incantatory dissociative uniquely Valerian spew liberally doused over ever page – here’s an example :

There is a smell of war about you, a state of emergency, a siege and something else, something wetter, more dangerous : prostitution, dead ocean birds and spiralling loneliness. It does not matter how many times you wash yourself, it does not matter how many times you scrub your crotch

- it looks like the author wishes to further discombobulate the reader by jumbling up the chronology of the story, darting between 1945 and 1991, but there is a discernable logic – the great majority of the short chapters are set in 1968, when Valerie shot Andy and was incarcerated in (the first of many) a psychiatric hospital, and 1988, when she died alone in a filthy hotel room and her maggoty body was not discovered for days. But otherwise, the book progresses straightforwardly through the 40s, 50s and 60s. After 1969 there’s a big gap of 18 years. Then comes the big sleep, and the maggots.

Back to the Main Event : Valerie was prosecuted for attempted murder but was found to be insane. She demurred from this. Not at all!

Valerie to psychiatrist :

This is no illness. I repeat. My condition is not a medical condition. It’s more a condition of extreme clarity, of stark white operating lights illuminating all words, things, bodies and identities. Within a stroke or a shout of you, Dr Cooper, everything looks different. Your so-called diagnosis is an exact description of woman’s place in the system of mass psychosis. Schizophrenia, paranoia, depression and the potential for destructive acts. Every girl in patriarchy knows that schizophrenia, paranoia and depression are in no way a description of an individual medical condition. It is a definitive diagnosis of a social structure and a form of government based on constant insults to the brain capacity of half the population, founded on rape.

Or more succinctly - Valerie to psychiatrist :

I’ll help you. Diagnosis: fucking angry. Pissed off. Man-hating tigress. All married women are whores. Are you married? Meat is murder. Sex is prostitution. Prostitution is murder

Question: Why did you shoot Andy Warhol?
Valerie : These are all the wrong questions. The right question is…why did so many of her kind have no access to weapons?

The story (there is no story) circles round and round three characters like a seagull circling a rubbish dump – there is Dorothy, the alky mother with a terrible taste in men, there is Cosmogirl, Valerie’s one true love girlfriend, and there is Dr Ruth Cooper, the bedazzled psychiatrist. Andy does not really feature. He has a shuffle-on part.

The novel is not interested in Valerie’s lifestory, just a couple of floodlit scenes in it. So there is no mention of the children she gave birth to at age 14 and 15. I dare say Sara Stridsberg had solid artistic reasons for this but I dunno, I wanted the full horrible Valerie life in this novel, not an edited version. I wanted another bit which is kind of skated over –

On 9 January 1969 Valerie was arrested again for making threats against Warhol and Maurice Girodias (of Evergreen Press). She was remanded to the Woman's House of Detention and then transferred to Elmhurst in May. ….
On 5 November 1971 Valerie showed up at Barney Rossett's office with an ice pick, threatening to use it. She was arrested, charged with aggravated harassment and held for psychiatric observation but released as there were insufficient grounds to keep her. She was arrested again in December 1971 for harassment and sent back to Elmhurst Hospital for psychological testing….
She continued her harassment of Barney Rossett and Fred Jordan (Vice-President of Grove Press)…

(from www.warholstars.org)

The story of what Valerie did between 1968 and 1988 kind of confirms, alas, that she had overwhelming mental health problems, was not such a pleasant human being, lived on the street a while, had a meth addiction, never did write anything else after the 1960s. A sad sorry story. I wouldn’t want to accuse Sara Stridsberg of serving up a defanged, prettified Valerie, she really really doesn’t, but it’s a partial cropped portrait, a little too stuffed with abstract-poetical-body-in-the-gutter-but-mind-in-the-stars rambling and raving for me.

Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews879 followers
September 22, 2019
When you read a quote unquote highbrow book, the impulse (at least for me) is usually to try to write a quote unquote highbrow review.  Because there isn't much dignity in reading an intelligent book like Valerie (published as The Faculty of Dreams in the UK) and dismissing it with pedestrian critique, but whatever, I'm going to do it anyway.  I found this both boring and deeply annoying.

I can never really figure out what I want from novels which fictionalize the lives of real people.  Because my impulse is to lean more toward more factual, biography-style novels (see: Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault), but then it's almost like... why don't I just read a biography of that person?  Why am I even reading a novel if I'm so opposed to creative liberties?  But I have also been known to enjoy more abstract fictionalizations (see: An Imaginary Life by David Malouf) which take a real life person and imagine, fictionalize, or dramatize details of their life, so it's not something I'm inherently opposed to. Valerie falls into the latter category to an extreme.  Sara Stridsberg in her forward admits that this is not an attempt to recreate the details of Valerie Solanas's life; it's more of a 'literary fantasy' where she loosely spins together fragments of Valerie's life and ideologies, while deliberately skewing facts (changing Valerie's birthplace from Ventnor to Ventor; moving it from New Jersey to a desert in Georgia).  It just... didn't work for me.

This is a book of ideas with nothing to ground them; the narrative threads are too few and far between for me to have anything to really grasp onto.  I didn't understand for the longest time why Stridsberg was bothering to disguise this fragmented, meandering, awkward novel as the story of Valerie Solanas, and while I did feel like that question was eventually answered, it was too little too late for me.  I read this entire book thinking 'I don't care, I should probably care, why don't I care, does the author care at all about how disengaged I am?'

But I do feel the need to remind everyone that I use the star rating system subjectively and I use my reviews to explain why I react to books in a certain way; I don't think this is a 'bad book' and I would dissuade no one who's interested in it from giving it a shot.  It just did nothing for me.  Though the US cover is one of the prettiest I've seen in a while, so there's that.

Thank you to Netgalley and FSG for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,024 reviews4,074 followers
April 25, 2019
Valerie Solanas, known for the chuckle-packed S.C.U.M Manifesto (pre-feminist prescience or pseudo-intellectual terrorism, choose one) and for putting a bullet into talentless human mop Andy Warhol, is taken on with a rollicking scabrousness and strange compassion in this Swedish novel first published in 2006. In a series of short chapters, alternating between fictional dialogues with Valerie and the narrator, her mother, her head quacks and her lovers, and ruminative and inventive imaginings of her fractious, skittering past and that past in relation to her mental decline, Stridsberg creates a Solanas who is at once unbound to her abusive, wayward childhood, although unable to hold back the horrors of a paranoid schizophrenia that would consign her to a footnote of feminism and Factory lore. A spirit of frenzied improvisation and waspish humour infuses this novel and the fragmented form fits the formless shambles of Solanas’s unhappy, misunderstood existence. The result is an intoxicating and pungent alt-history, a sincere attempt to anglepoise some light onto a divisive figure. [THIS REVIEW IS FOR PAUL BRYANT WHO COMPLAINED THAT MY SENRYU REVIEWS ARE NOT SINEWY ENOUGH FOR HIS LIKING AND WHO THINKS CONCISION IS THE DEVIL’S BUSINESS]
Profile Image for Lena.
544 reviews
January 4, 2021

"Bara veta att det finns en sång någonstans som låter som en saga,
men inte här; en trädgård full av skärvor, ett ödeland, en flock snöleoparder
som jagar genom fälten. Du vill bara äga den där sången, vill ha det där
främmande språket och sagan som den lever och andas i floden."

Vackert, sorgligt, inlevelsefullt och magiskt.

Nominerad till Man Booker Prize 2019!
Profile Image for Doug.
1,989 reviews706 followers
May 13, 2020
Unlike most of my GR chums, who read this when it was nominated for the Booker International last year (many felt it should have won!), I came to it late, directly after consuming the new hefty biography of Warhol, and also subsequently re-watching Mary Harron's film, 'I Shot Andy Warhol'.

So I was a mite puzzled (and disappointed) that Stridberg's imagined fantasia strayed from the facts about Solanas' life as often as it adhered to them. The author never quite explains WHY she did that, and it is weird that some of the more obscure facts (such as that Warhol was admitted into the hospital as 'Bob Roberts' for his fatal gallbladder operation) are adhered to, but she seemingly arbitrarily changed such things as the location of Valerie's childhood from New Jersey (which accounted for her thick honk of an accent - see:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPQVt...) to the non-existent deserts of Georgia .... and that she 'mistakenly' has Paul Morrissey also shot in Valerie's assassination attempt (the other victim was Mario Amaya, who is never mentioned), or had Viva present there also (she was on the phone with Andy when he was shot - and she also inexplicably calls her 'Viva Ronaldo', when to my knowledge she never went by that name - her real name was Susan Hoffman).

Anyway, as soon as I grudgingly let go of the fact this WASN'T going to be factual, I got into the groove of what it WAS, and enjoyed many of the riffs. The surreal and at times impressionistic prose seemed a good match to the tale Stridberg DID want to tell, although there were many sections that (purposely?) remained opaque and repetitious, especially those chapters that had alphabetical subheadings. And though much of it was fascinating in a perverse way, I was left not really understanding the purpose of revisiting Solanas' life in this fashion - other than to draw attention to the inequalities still besetting the female gender, which drove her protagonist crazy, and perhaps lead one to seek out more factual information on her.

My sincere thanks to both Netgalley and FS & G for providing me with an ARC in exchange for this honest review ... and apologies for not submitting it sooner.
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews638 followers
March 26, 2019
The Faculty of Dreams is not a biography, it is a literary fantasy derived from the life and work of Valerie Solanas, American, now deceased. Few facts are known about Valerie Solanas and even to those this novel is not faithful. All characters in the novel should therefore be regarded as fictional, including Valerie Solanas herself.

This also applies to the map of America, there being no deserts in Georgia.

As I went into this book, I knew the name “Valerie Solanas” and I knew she was famous for her attempt on the life of Andy Warhol. But that was just about all I thought I knew. The book talks a fair amount about her SCUM Manifesto which didn’t immediately spring to mind when I saw her name but did ring some bells when I saw it mentioned in the text.

There are three elements to the text. The overall structure is driven by Solanas’ life up to the point where she shoots Warhol. There are five sections which take us through 1945-48, 1951-55, 1956-63, 1967-68 and May/June 1968 (the shooting was on 3 June 1968). In these sections, we read about Solanas’ childhood, her youth, her student days, her initial time in New York (including involvement with Warhol) and, finally, her deterioration mentally that ends with the shooting. Interleaved with this life story are two other threads: one narrative thread follows Solanas in the aftermath of the shooting (and this includes her time in a psychiatric hospital and in prison) and a final thread puts us with Solanus in a seedy hotel room room in the days leading up to her death in 1988.

The actual narration of the story uses several different techniques. Sometimes, the narrator talks to Solanas in the second person. At other times, events are related to us in the form of a screenplay or drama script (including a character called Narrator). There are several repeating themes and phrases that pull the reader back to earlier parts of the narrative.

It takes a few chapters to get into the swing of the intertwined narratives, but I found I settled relatively quickly into the rhythm of it and, once that has happened, it is not confusing to read.

It is, however, an incredibly sad book to read. As I don’t know much about Solanas, I am not in a position to judge what is fact and what is fiction in this (although a quick search on Google shows some immediate things that have been altered), but the life presented to us in this book is an unhappy one. And the writing style is quite confrontational and explicit in terms of some of the sexual references and bodily functions involved.

This is not a comfortable book to read, but it is compellingly told. Once you have the overarching structure clear in your head, the different strands hold together and support one another making something that, I think, is stronger for its unusual structure than a novel more linear would be.

This is my seventh book from the 2019 Man Booker International long list and it moves immediately to the top of my rankings.

And my favourite quote from the book: You said: Well, if they could put one man on the moon, why not all of them?
Profile Image for Rebecka.
1,101 reviews82 followers
March 21, 2016
Well, wow. This has gotten so many 5 star reviews and I'm hesitating between 1 and 2... I really fail to see what's so great about this book.

Even though this was written in Swedish, I felt like I was reading a poorly translated book the entire time. I had to keep telling myself that no, this is actually a Swedish book. I know it's set in the US (speaking of which, is the misspelling of the birthplace of Valerie intentional?) and that it's very American in general, but the linguistic Americanism just bothered me too much. I never got used to it. Every time the "hey hey hey" was repeated (and that was quite often) I felt my rage rising. And the "sötvin". Is that dessert wine? Wtf is sötvin? Is it the Finnish-Swedish version of dessertvin? And how many times does it have to be brought up? Same with the boots, the lucky threads, the silver coat, the mice, academia. Repetitions, repetitions, repetitions. All in all, this book is very much about repetition. It's the same lines over and over again. Some parts may be good, but they drown in the obnoxiousness of Valerie and the rest and her extreme repetitiveness. Valerie's every line is obnoxious, and she basically just says the same thing again and again.

All the "names" of characters fel misplaced as well, like they would have worked in English, but fell flat in Swedish. Well, the entire book fell flat for me. I actually started this twice. Little did I know that it was actually the first 10% (which I never got past the first time) that were the best. The dying Valerie in the hotel room was the best version, but the narrator part could have been skipped. Along with great chunks of the book.

It's actually a great story to write about, I just couldn't stand this version of it. I was constantly annoyed while reading it and the feeling of aggression that brings out in me still hasn't died down.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
666 reviews3,236 followers
June 19, 2019
I first became aware of Valerie Solanas amidst my teenage obsession with Andy Warhol. During this period I loved reading books by and about Warhol as I was entranced by how this nerdy awkward kid of Polish descent from Pittsburgh grew to be the famed leader of an art movement. Solanas was one of the interlopers who frequented Andy’s factory and starred in one of his films, but in 1968 Solanas shot Warhol and almost killed him. Her story was brilliantly realised by Lili Taylor in the 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol. Solanas was a radical feminist and anarchist who wrote a book called the “SCUM Manifesto” which encouraged women to overthrow society and eliminate the male sex. She was evidently very troubled and difficult, but an absolutely fascinating person. Sara Stridsberg reimagines Solanas’ story in her novel “The Faculty of Dreams” which was longlisted for this year’s Man Booker International Prize. We follow Solanas from childhood through to her sadly impoverished later years with frequent leaps backwards and forwards in time simulating the fragmented consciousness of this highly-intelligent and problematic heroine. In doing so Stridsberg captures Solanas’ frustrated brilliance as well as her obsessive mind, mental breakdown and how she was one of many radical outsiders who were scorned and swept under the rug of society.

Read my full review of The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Claire Fuller.
Author 13 books2,038 followers
June 20, 2019
Fractured and feverish, this novel which imagines the life and thoughts of Valerie Solanas (famous for shooting Warhol and writing the SCUM Manifesto), took me deep into the head of a very troubled woman. There are scenes from Valerie's childhood, university life, the time she ran away to the coast, her periods in a mental institution, in court, and on her deathbed in a seedy hotel in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. It's often hard to read, difficult to orientate oneself, jumbled and disturbing. But ultimately desperately sad.
Profile Image for Tobias Eriksson.
67 reviews3 followers
August 26, 2019
Det finns bra böcker och det finns BRA BÖCKER! Drömfakulteten tillhör definitivt den senare kategorin.
Det poetiska språket och sättet Stridsberg bygger romanen är så himla bra. Jag vill läsa mer Stridsberg, helst igår!
Profile Image for carissa.
148 reviews
April 8, 2019
I remember reading The SCUM Manifesto in the early 80’s for a Psychology of Women class. I remember being stunned, repulsed and intrigued. I remember a lot of us were. We could not stop talking about it and her and our own stories. That class changed my life. Valerie was a big part of that.

Reading this book at work last month a co-worker says “oh, SCUM! My professor read that to us on orientation day at CED@ Berkeley.” A man in his early 30’s who, it turns out, agrees with a lot of SCUM’s message, even if it is worded in a way that is “a little too much”, the basic concepts seem “true and workable” in his pov. I am again stunned, repulsed and intrigued and we can’t stop talking about it and our own stories and, now, how do we work to create change…to end societal acceptance of violence against women and children…to shift the violence of societal expectations of what it is to be a man.

Maybe Valerie’s ill-directed, yet, righteous rage has finally found its generation?

I am inexplicably filled with hope. Thanks Sara Stridsberg.

Happy Birthday Valerie, and thanks.

Profile Image for Sidharth Vardhan.
Author 23 books687 followers
October 16, 2019

"....but being unloved is an act of terror."

"Valerie. Marilyn. Roslyn. Ulrike. Sylvia. Dorothy. Cosmogirl. A kind of insane genius. She has lost her marbles. That means we will wipe out her memories. Electroshock, injections, straitjackets, Elmhurst."

Probably one of best books I have read in this year. I hadn heard about Valerie Solane before this book. If you are someone who is moved by anguish of likes of Marilyn Munro, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath; I will highly recommend this book - it probably should have won International Man Booker. Apparently Valerie was a writer, artist, actress, playright, feminist and a scientist who wrote S.C.U.M. manifesto, a feminist manifesto in which she describes how women must arise against men and men must kill themselves as only sensible thing to do.:

"Retaining the male has not even the dubious purpose of reproduction. The male is a biological accident: the Y gene is an incomplete X gene, that is, it has an incomplete set of chromosomes. In other words, the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples."

and who also shot a famous movie director Any Warhol attempting to kill him after later stole a play she wrote but also had much to do with a life lived in anguish:

"Why doesn’t she shoot? Why in hell’s name doesn’t she shoot? All her rights were under attack. A state of raped she-babies and raped she-animals. And why don’t they shoot? I don’t actually know, Dr Cooper. If I knew, we wouldn’t be sitting here. Half a civilization on its knees and an arms industry that turns over more every month than the third world’s combined debt to the corrupt world. And that’s not including the porn industry."

This toxic hatred of men could be sourced to repeative sexual abuse at hands of her father:

"My condition is not a medical condition. It’s more a condition of extreme clarity, of stark white operating lights illuminating all words, things, bodies and identities. Within a stroke or a shout of you, Dr Cooper, everything looks different. Your so-called diagnosis is an exact description of woman’s place in the system of mass psychosis. Schizophrenia, paranoia, depression and the potential for destructive acts. Every girl in patriarchy knows that schizophrenia, paranoia and depression are in no way a description of an individual medical condition. It is a definitive diagnosis of a social structure and a form of government based on constant insults to the brain capacity of half the population, founded on rape."

Her hatred for men is not helped by her later depending on prostitution to raising money for education. An anguished life - with sexual abuse from her father, a volatile relationship with her mother, the death of the only girl she loved etc is written about in this amazing book. I do not wish to analyse her character something the character herself resists. And after all it will be discrediting her to call her diseased.:

"You’re no woman, Valerie. You’re a disease."

But if it was a disease, it was created by people around her - and mostly men. And even later on, she, the agonised perspective with which she sees the world created out of her own traumatic experiences and her ideas continue to be a mere source of amusement to people, including feminists - good in as far as they could be commercialised or were entertaining but never taken seriously. Of course, people won't take ideas of S.C.U.M. manifesto seriously, but it seems like she was already being treated like a book character by people around her.

The best part of the book is the narration itself with prose always managing to reflect the anguish of the protagonist.

"The blood flows so slowly through your body. You claw at your breasts, weep and cry out, fumble with the bedding. The hotel sheets are dirty, gray with age, and foul-smelling, urine and vomit and vaginal blood and tears, a golden cloud of pain floating through your mind and gut. Blinding streaks of light in the room, explosions of agony in your skin and lungs, pitching, plunging, blazing. Heat in your arms, fever, abandonment, the stench of dying. Slivers and shards of light still flickering; your hands searching for Dorothy. I hate myself but I do not want to die. I do not want to disappear. I want to go back. I long for someone’s hands, my mother’s hands, a girl’s arms. Or a voice of any kind. Anything but this eclipse of the sun.

"Besides, she has a serious tendency to mistake tears for laughter. Foundation course in psychiatry and linguistics. Laughing is a substitute for weeping in the same way that words are a substitute for screams."

"Up to now the history of all societies has been the history of silence. Rebel, psychoanalyst, experimental writer, woman’s potential as dissident. Language has become increasingly a physical substance whose only function is to underline my loneliness."

The book though narrating Valerie's life retains that dream like quality with several postmodern tools employed to give the effect that you are witnessing the creation of author .... within mind of author who is creating it in some sort of dream - sentences get repeated to increase the effect, the landscape of Georgia is turned into a desert to mirror the anguish of protagonist, Vlaerie's writings are frequently quoted, the author herself says she has taken lots of liberty with facts in very begining. One such example is the conversations between narrator (the author herself) and Valerie.:

"NARRATOR: My faculty of dreams—
VALERIE: —and no sentimental young women or sham authors playing at writing a novel about me dying. You don’t have my permission to go through my material."

"NARRATOR: I don’t want to live in a world where you die. There must be other endings, other stories.
VALERIE: Death is the end of all stories. There are no happy endings."

More quotes:

VALERIE: "Remember, I’m the only sane woman here"

"Hope was never a thing with feathers."
CLAUDIA RANKINE (an epigraph)

"Her words flutter like wrapping paper in the wind."

"The Olympia Press, founded in Paris in 1953 (on a shoestring) by Maurice Girodias, allegedly to pervert American tourists into a pornographic way of life, published The Story of O in 1954, Lolita and The Ginger Man in 1955, all of de Sade’s novels and most of Henry Miller’s best works, Candy in 1958, The Naked Lunch and Durrell’s Black Book in 1959 – not to speak of dozens of other interesting authors, masterpieces and diversions."

"Don’t interrupt me . . . Sex . . . Sex is a refuge for the mindless. The more mindless the woman, the more deeply embedded in masculine culture. In short, the nicer she is, the more sexual. The nicest women in our society are raving sex maniacs . . . Do you follow?"
Profile Image for Elena Sala.
471 reviews78 followers
May 4, 2019
Sara Stridsberg is a Swedish writer whose project seems to be, according to Lilian Rösing, "the ‘rehabilitation’ of unpopular, or at least suspect and criticisable, women – whether they be actual historical people or fictional characters."
THE FACULTY OF DREAMS (2007) centers on the radical American feminist, Valerie Solanas, famed for her SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto and her attempt to kill Andy Warhol. It is not a biography, but “a literary fantasy” based on Solanas’ life and work: “All the people appearing in the book must therefore be regarded as fictional, even Valerie Solanas.”, Stridsberg points out in her introductory note.
Solanas died of pneumonia in a cheap hotel room in the Tenderloin, San Franscisco’s red-light district in 1988. She was found on a dirty mattress and urine-soaked sheet by hotel staff. The police report mentioned that her body was covered in maggots, and her death probably occurred five days before.
Solanas’ deathbed triggers the narrator’s power of imagination as she imagines that she is there with Valerie, sitting alongside, in order to alleviate the loneliness in her act of dying.
I could try to summarize this book by saying that it is about a brilliant, fierce, damaged woman with mental health issues who prostitutes herself, who was abused by her father when she was a child, remains tied to her suicidal, alcoholic and man-dependent mother, falls in love with a substance-dependent boy, finds the love of her life in the lesbian daughter of a woman on death row, tries to kill a famous artist, and finally dies in her own filth. But this is not really what the novel is about. Stridsberg does not write a social-realist story about abused women at the bottom of society. Valerie does not work as prostitute out of necessity – she has enough money of their own. She even attended university, she did research work, she could earn a living. Stridsberg writes about dreams. In her prose, the disgusting and the beautiful, dead foetuses and butterflies, sordid sex and fragile, tiny seahorses, vomit and soaring, pink flamingos, are as insistent as recurring dream-visions.
This is quite a challenging novel. It is an experimental text which blends biographical facts with imaginary conversations between Valerie and the narrator. It is fittingly presented as a play script, because Valerie wrote a play and wanted to be a playwright. She contacted Warhol precisely because she wanted his help to get her play published. Even her life seemed like a continuous performance.
THE FACULTY OF DREAMS made it to the 2019 Man Booker International Longlist. It is a very daring, raw novel. I was mesmerized by it.
Profile Image for LindaJ^.
2,134 reviews6 followers
April 8, 2019
This is the 9th of the 13 books on the 2019 MBI longlist that I have read. I am placing it second on my list, but it is very close to 1st. 4.5* rounded up to 5*.

This novel is a fictional biography of Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot but failed to kill Andy Warhol in 1968. The review by Neil (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) and Paul (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) provide a superb description of the structure of the novel, meaning I do not have to try. As Hugh notes in his review, it is quite the "feat of imagination."

The author occasionally inserts herself into the novel, as the "narrator" who questions Valerie as she is dying in her hotel room in the welfare hotel in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. This is a very sad story. Solanas was raped by her father at age 7. Her mother had bad taste in men. Solanas apparently was brilliant, almost managing to earn a PhD in psychology at the University of Maryland. However, rather than completing her doctorate, Solanas turns up in NYC, where she lives at the Chelsea Hotel and, for a while, becomes part of Andy Warhol's groupies at the Factory. Solanas, in addition to having her 15 minutes of fame for shooting Warhol, also wrote the SCUM Manifesto, which advocates eliminating men in toto as unnecessary.

The NYC section brought to mind Just Kids, a memoir by Patti Smith about her time living at the Chelsea Hotel with Robert Mapplethorpe, including their interactions with Andy Warhol around the same time.

I thought this was a fascinating read. I liked the changing styles and the changing scene. It was hard to be with Solanas, not only because of the abuse but also her descent into mental illness in a seemingly uncaring world.
Profile Image for Seema Rao.
Author 2 books44 followers
March 13, 2019
Brilliant ~ Layered ~ Intellectual

tl:dr: Our fifteen minutes of fame can feel like a lifetime for some.

I've never wanted to read Swedish more than today when I finished up this book. This book is probably one of those classical described as literary. While the book isn't terribly long, you will want to pour over some of the languages. The text is layered and complex. There were moments when I was totally lost and had to start again. But, in some ways, that only made the book stronger.

The book is about the person who shot Andy Warhol, Valerie Solanas. The author imagines scenes and situations with that real person. There is something so 60's art about creating fake conversations with a real person. I wondered if Stridsberg was drawn intellectually to Warhol and his peers who played with reality and artificiality.

The complexity of the text mirrors the complexity of the message. Solanes had real things to say about the position of women in her society and the way that fame is a position against women. Those issues about women in society have, sadly, not changed drastically in the decades since Warhol was shot. The complexity of this book brings focus to these issues. Solanas' life is seen as a result of the society she is in, and as a reader, you are inevitably led to thinking about how our society frames our own lives as women.

Wonderful, difficult read.

Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Seema Rao Write : Instagram| Blog| Twitter |
Profile Image for Sofie.
13 reviews5 followers
October 10, 2009
The book is about Valerie Solanas who grounded SCUM (SOciety for Cutting Up Men) and shot Andy Warhol. It's about her past, her present, and the future lying ahead of her.

This book may be one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. It's full of both hidden and obvious poetry. Meanwhile it draws you into the history of a sad soul (Valerie Solanas), and how she handles her background.
Though I'm frustrated to read how roughly she abuses her intelligence, but at the same time impressed to discover how she fascinates and enchants everyone.
Of course she's aware of her stupidity, but at the same time convinced that she's on a mission and therefore doing the right thing.
But after saying this I want to point out, that it wasnt foolish of her to follow her intentions. By being that extreme she broaded her message, and made women believe in themselves.

By reading this book I got a better (and deeper) look into the (however fictitious) personality of Valerie Solanas, SCUM, Andy Warhol, and the whole thing about being an extreme feminist.
Profile Image for Mai Laakso.
1,160 reviews55 followers
April 21, 2018
Sara Stridsbergin Unelmien tiedekunta räjäyttää itsensä lukijan tietoisuuteen heti ensimmäisillä lauseilla. Lukijalle on tiedossa kaikkea mahdollista pedofiliasta prostituutioon, ja siinä ohessa runsasta huumeidenkäyttöä, murhayritys, pakkohoitoa mielisairaalassa jne. Aihepiiri on todella raskas. Se on niin raskas kuin ikinä voi mielenterveyteen liittyvä kirja olla. Kirjan päähenkilö on Valerie Solanas. Stridsbergin mukaan Unelmien tiedekunta on kirjallinen fantasia, joka pohjautuu edesmenneen amerikkalaisnaisen Valerie Solanasin elämään ja teoksiin.
Kirjassa kuvataan Valerien elämää mm. lapsuudessa ja nuoruudessa sekä kuolinvuotena.
Pienelle tytölle, joka kasvoi heitteillä ja koulunkäynti lapsuudessa oli mitä oli, ei elämällä ollut paljon tarjottavana. Nuoruus kului katulapsena, mutta siitä huolimatta Valerie ponnisteli yliopistoon ja valmistui sieltä. Lapsena satutettu on silti aikuisenakin satutettu.
Profile Image for Sara.
315 reviews43 followers
March 11, 2021
Unelmien tiedekunnan kaunokirjallisia ansioita en kiistä, mutta tämä ei vain ihan ollut teos minun makuuni. Jotenkin liian toisteinen, vaikka toistoa toki käytetään tietoisesti tehokeinona.

Kerronta oli paikoin elokuvamaista ja mieleen piirtyvät kuvat ja maisemat tosi vahvoja. Viimeaikaisista katselukokemuksista tulivat Mieleen The Queen's gambit ja Ratched, ja näiden molempien estetiikan liitän nimenomaan Valerien nuoruuden kuvauksiin.

Ja pelottavaa tai ei, samastuin Stridsbergin vimmaisen vihaiseen Valerieen tämän vihaisimpina ja selvimpinä hetkinä. Näen Valerien ja toisen osapuolen keskinäisessä ohi puhumisessa itseni: siellä minä saarnaan oikeutettu viha tulenani, mutta saan vastaani vain hiljaisuutta ja hämmennystä, joskus jotain enemmän hyökkäystä muistuttavaa. Meigämuijalla ja patriarkaatilla on Valerien lailla kana kynittävänä.
Profile Image for Johanna.
106 reviews4 followers
August 25, 2019
Mycket speciell bok. Jag tror inte att det är en slump att jag fick en livsinsikt och kom på vad jag vill göra i livet medan jag läste den här.
Profile Image for Annarella.
11k reviews106 followers
April 2, 2019
A fascinating and atmospheric book that mixes historical characters and facts turning them into something that reminds me of a feverish dream.
It's a very challenging and complex novel, not an easy read, but at the same time one those book you keep on reading because you're fascinated by the prose and what you're reading.
I don't know if it's the translation or the style of the writer but I couldn't stop reading even if this totally out of my comfort zone.
I read about Valerie Solanas, the historical character, but the Valerie Solanas in the book is more complex and fascinating that the reality and she's a character you won't forget easily.
I'd be happy to read other books by this author.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to Quercus Books and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
Profile Image for Jenni.
161 reviews5 followers
April 10, 2023
No niin, vautsi vau. Tämä oli outo yhdistelmä, ekana tuli mieleen Joyce ja tokana omat pyrkimykset, joten rakastin, kadehdin ja inhosin. Nopea, vaikea, kekseliäs, kelluva, kipeä. Arvostan genreillä ja tekstityypeillä leikkimistä, omien sääntöjen luomista. Kamalan surullinen tarina, kovin kauniisti kirjoitettu, impressionismia tosiaan.

Mitkä ohjeet kuolevan ihmisen rinnalla olemiselle.

Myönnän myös etten ole kuullutkaan Andy Warholin melkein tulleen näin murhatuksi. Mitä ihmisestä jää jäljelle, kun tämä ei hallitse omaa perintöään?
Profile Image for Tom Mooney.
616 reviews157 followers
June 13, 2019
This is the painful, distressing, sad story of the life of Valerie Solanas, made famous as the author of the SCUM manifesto and shooter of Andy Warhol.

Told in the form of a mosaic, jumping between the key moments in her life - her childhood, time in mental institutions, the courtroom and her deathbed - it is initially a difficult novel to get ahold of. I felt like I was grasping at thin air for 100 pages. But once things start to fall into place it is a very rewarding read.

The whole thing left me questioning Valerie's character, society's inability to deal with people who refuse to conform and, ultimately, my own reactions to Valerie. Provocative, original and highly, unashamedly literary.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 254 reviews

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