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The Law of Dreams

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,970 ratings  ·  293 reviews
The Law of Dreams tells the story of a young man's epic passage from innocence to experience during The Great Famine in Ireland of 1847.

On his odyssey through Ireland and Britain, and across the Atlantic to “the Boston states,” Fergus is initiated to violence, sexual heat, and the glories and dangers of the industrial revolution. Along the way, he meets an unforgettable ge
Hardcover, 408 pages
Published August 22nd 2006 by Steerforth (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,970 ratings  ·  293 reviews

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Jan 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lads and lassies
Recommended to Jim by: Danna L. Sides
Shelves: legion-of-vermin
Imagine that you’re a tenant farmer. You’re young, never been to school, never owned a decent pair of shoes. All your life you’ve lived on the same piece of rugged earth. Then the Great Famine comes, wipes out the farm. The tenant evicts your family but your father won’t go and you watch them starve until the soldiers come and set fire to the home and everyone in your family is murdered, but you. This is the set up for Peter Behrens amazing novel The Law of Dreams. It’s a historical novel about ...more
May 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
My sister-in-law’s husband received this as a gift for Christmas, and when I read the fly-leaf I couldn’t figure out how it had slipped beneath my radar. This is exactly the sort of book I look for. Set during the great potato famine in Ireland, the story follows a boy named Fergus as he watches the simple world he knew of mountains, fields, and cattle in County Clare crumble and die in the face of the terrible blight. After his entire family dies and he is ejected from the land of the farmer wh ...more
Ron Charles
Dec 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
My favorite novel of 2006

The Law of Dreams is a fearsome story of such prolonged agony and unquenchable spirit that you can't escape till the final page abandons you to astonished silence. Peter Behrens, a screenwriter who lives in Maine, based this debut novel on his family's history in Ireland, but the private tragedy he describes was common to hundreds of thousands of people during the Great Famine of 1847, and the language he uses constantly soars above that calamity toward the mystery of hu
Patrick Lacey
Feb 22, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Qualified Yes
This book got some favorable reviews, including one from on-call Irish expert Malachy McCourt... but I had some problems with it. It's set during the Great Hunger in Ireland (circa 1847) when a huge number of Irish people died or emigrated(1 million and 2 million, respectively; it's still the worst famine on record, in terms of numbers), which, believe it or not, happens to be a subject I've read a lot about. I felt the main character managed to slip through things just a bit too easily. Horribl ...more
Feb 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My favourite line from this book: "Potatoes were not made or cut, like the farmer's hay or corn, they were lifted, joyfully, the surprise of the world." I'm always a softie for the Irish stories; it's in my blood. I wanted to hear more about the main character's life once he made it to Canada, but the tale of his journey was still a captivating read. ...more
May 19, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. This book was god-awful.

I read it because The Cat lent it to me. The Cat is a colleague, so called, because he meowed during a conference call in his first week of work. As it turned out later, this is perfectly in keeping with his personality. One day The Cat appeared in my office bearing a water-logged copy of this book. Apparently, we had some prior conversation about it that I can't recall. He had read it and his sister had read it.

I pretty much hated it. It is the story of an Irish boy
Lieve Brekelmans
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good novel. Although it contains many brutal and uncensored scenes during which the characters (including Fergus) seem to lack emotion, this novel contains well-written, heart twisting events. The rough, uncensored writing style only adds to the thought that we are all alone in this world and are constantly crushed by life. And if this novel is an accurate portrayment of Ireland/England in the 19th century: boy am I glad I was born in the 21st! (and in Holland for that matter)
Sean Gainford
Awkwardly Written

The writing in this book can be very awkward, and sometimes can just be plain bad. The narrative voice is also confusing. E.g.:

{ 'I tell you, one way or another you will be clear of those people. Over population, sir, is the curse of this country.'

And it is the truth. }

So in the above, 'And it is the truth' seems to come from the narrator. So does the narrator really believe that the disaster of the potato famine was because of over population?

Then the narrator seems to swit
A rough and graphic novel, but nevertheless an effortless and good read. Fergus goes through a lot of misery in is life during the infamous Irish Famine. He travels through Ireland, England, Wales and then through America, trying to find his way and to cope with the past and to "keep moving", which is in other words: the Law of Dreams.
Fergus goes through a lot, and sadly a lot of people die. I did not get attached to characters and did not really mind them dying. I did feel sympathy for Fergus,
Oct 14, 2014 rated it liked it
As a look into the tragic lives of the victims of the Irish Potato famine this book works well as it paints a vivid picture of the grim reality of the lives and deaths of so many people. As a journey into the thoughts of one person who witnesses so much death and destruction and tries to come to terms with still having a soul this book also works. Unfortunately it's a. 3 star book to me as the writing style is so choppy and terse. Initailly it has a poetic dreamy feel but after awhile it becomes ...more
Steven Z.
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Over the years a myriad of books dealing with the Irish potato famine and the resulting immigration to the United States have appeared. Some are non-fiction and others fall into the historical fiction category. Peter Behrens’ novel, THE LAW OF DREAMS is a wonderful addition to the historical fiction genre encapsulating the plight of the Irish in mid-nineteenth century England as they made their way across the Atlantic. What separates Behrens’ effort from the rest is the poignancy and sensitivity ...more
Feb 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
It's a given that the majority of students learn about Ireland's Great Famine of 1847, the resulting exodus and diaspora, in high school and college history classes. Also, that unless the Famine is part of an individual's personal, family consciousness, much of what is remembered is distilled facts of distant history, despite the staggeringly epic consequences of this tragedy.

The Law of Dreams is an original, classic journey story of one man's odyssey from extreme poverty and depridation and th
Oct 22, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Law of Dreams" recounts the odyssey of a young Irish boy, driven from his home by the horrors of the Famine and the injustices of British rule, left to survive amidst the growing chaos and anarchy of Famine-era Ireland, forced to weather the hardships and violence of Liverpool and Wales at the peak of the industrial revolution, before facing the interminable passage to the New World aboard a typhus-infested ship. The story is told with a gritty realism that displaces the romanticism that pervad ...more
Feb 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Behrens does not candy coat this emigrant's tale. Law of Dreams is animalistic in its portrayal of Fergus's flight from Ireland. Behren's writing is beautiful and poignantly clear. His writing is full of Fergus's questioning thoughts that make the reader question her thoughts, as well. "Are you a part of the the world, like a bird, an apple tree, a fish or the sea itself? Or are you here to judge it, everything in it, including yourself?" (321) Fantastic.

Fergus was besieged with guilt for survi
Julie Christine
Jan 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Julie Christine by: Maureen
Further evidence to my belief that the Irish tell the best stories. THis is an Odyssey-like tale of a young Irish man left orphaned and homeless by the famine. After living like an animal in the Irish bogs and then on the run from a crime of desperation, he lives a half-life in England until he is able to set sail for the promised land- North America.

The story is brutal, but the writing is so poetic and lyrical - you are swept on by its beauty even as you wince as horrors of poverty and the bli
Apr 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is a great beauty and a total immersion in its time and places. I've bought it for half a dozen people since I read it. ...more
Kevin Hess,
Jan 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
Incredible journey from boyhood and a patch of land in Ireland, to manhood and the new world, and the places and people in between.
Sharon Hwang
Jun 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book! It is beautifully written and I couldn't put it down. Testimony to the hardship of life... and the power of the human spirit to survive. ...more
Dec 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The Law of Dreams is a reason we read.

This was a beautiful book. It describes how a young tenant farmer named Fergus travels across Ireland, struggles to find work in England, and finally takes a ship to America. He experiences very different harsh, real lives, from a group of children turned bandits in order to survive to the ragged, quick-blooded workers building a railroad by cutting through raw earth.

Fergus doesn’t just encounter things. He breathes people. He wades through his surroundings
This book is a gritty and realistic story of what happened to many poor Irish tenants during the Great Famine in mid-18th century Ireland. Young Fergus O'Brien is turned out from the only home he'd ever known when his tenant-family is brutally burned in their beds by the landlord. Fergus is exposed to hardship beyond his expectations, and violence that he finds shocking but necessary for his own survival. He is betrayed by people he trusts and learns to rely on his wits and his determination as ...more
Robin Woodcock
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really love it when a book gets my reading mojo going again (is that even a phrase? Looks like I just made it one) after a time away from the printed page, and The Law of Dreams totally did that. I breezed through this in about 24 hours (would that we could have nice breaks from work every season) and didn't want it to end.

One of the best things about this book was that I opened it with low expectations and was more than pleasantly surprised with how much I liked it. Mind you, I was also surpr
May 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a magnificant novel, vividly imagined, superbly executed. The story of Fergus O'Brien fleeing famine-ridden 1840s Ireland after losing his family to fever is one you will not soon forget. Behrens does not hold anything back. The horrors of a world that shows its inhabitants no mercy, the fears of people looking death in the eye, the crimes that good people must commit just to get through another day are there on every page. Fergus is a survivor. His strength comes from never regarding hi ...more
Aug 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't know if I can even articulate how this book affected me. If you appreciate poetic, poignant and haunting prose, go read this right now. If you like historical novels that are able to balance true storytelling with complex, human/falliable characters, go read this. The book takes place during the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, but it is really about searching, betrayal, risk and courage. I found the writing to beautiful at times that I had to stop and just ponder a sentence. I don't to ...more
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I thought for a while there that I would really enjoy this book, but after a while I got quite bored. At first I really liked the distant, slightly dreamy, introspective nature of the author's writing, but it quickly got repetitive. This had the potential to be a great book, albeit somewhat cliched - it's about a young boy who loses his entire family during the Irish Famine and ends up in Canada, via an Irish workhouse, an almost stint as a male prostitute in Liverpool, a railroad navvy in Wales ...more
Nov 12, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't know whether or not I'd like this book when I bought it, but it turned out to be really good! It tells the story of a teenage boy living in Ireland during the famine of 1847. The author does a wonderful job of capturing the human experience during traumatic times, and really cuts to the heart of what it means to survive, and what it is that keeps you going. The story seems to be very authentic from a historical perspective, and is very well written. ...more
Dec 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: folks interested in 19th century Europe/America
This book was intersting, captivating, and historically interesting. An easy yet informative read, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about 19th century immigration to the United States, particularly from the perspective of the Irish who had survived the potato famine. As a warning, this book can be heavy. Not exactly a happy read, it was still redeeming in content and worth the time.
Jan 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A tender account of the inner and outer journey of Fergus O'Brien, who in 1846 flees starvation in Ireland, searching for love and a way to sustain his life. Behrens' unusual rhythm and word choice weave history, vivid settings, and characters' emotions together seamlessly. When I was finished, I felt like I had had a glimpse of what my Irish ancestors may have experienced on their immigration to Canada in the 1830s. ...more
Jan 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: grownups-fiction
This was difficult at first, to read. More like one of those books that English teachers love. Full of language and angst. However, I'm glad I stuck with it, what a good find! An un-named Irish boy travels from Ireland to England to Wales and on, witnessing pain and suffering in a way that hasn't been written before. His breif moments of pleasure are almost too far apart, but not quite. ...more
Jun 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a harsh tale of Fergus, a young Irishman who lived through the Irish potato famine in the mid 1800's. He went from being the son of a tenant farmer to becoming a homeless and orphaned young man trying to survive. I loved the historical aspect of the book as well as the tense and tragic odyssey Fergus endured. It had great spirit and Behren's writing was beautiful. ...more
Ted Dettweiler
Aug 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
The impetus for this story is the Irish potato famine which caused the poorest of the poor to leave Ireland. If you ever wondered what it might have been like to come to the New World in a sailing ship, this is your book.
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Peter Behrens is author of three novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (Steerforth/Random House); THE O'BRIENS (Pantheon), and CARRY ME (forthcoming Feb 2016, from Pantheon (US) & Anansi (Canada)). Also 2 collection sof short stories, NIGHT DRIVING (Macmillan) and TRAVELING LIGHT (Astoria). Behrens held a prestigious Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. He was born in Montreal and is currently a Fellow ...more

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