At around 250 pages, Without Dreams is not a long novel, but reading it was like wading through mud.
It could have been good- the premise was simple and had the potential to be powerful. Domestic violence, alcoholism, the effects these have on the young who witness them, and injustices meted to domestic servants in a corrupt society. But Bilgrami’s attempts to create suspense and mystery were extraordinarily tiresome. Almost every chapter ended with some kind of teaser, cliff-hanger or other attempt to create mystery. Used sparingly, this device can be powerful. Bilgrami did it to death:
“The night seemed endless.” (p. 34)
“When the figure disappeared in a flash of yellow, Haroon rubbed his eyes and wondered whether he had dreamt it all.” (p. 81)
“For Haroon, therefore, December was synonymous with death.” (p. 153)
An effect of this tedious device is that I was unable to care about the characters in any way. The battered wife was one dimensional and pitiful. The servant boy Abdul was bird-like in his stupidity. The other protagonist, fourteen-year old Haroon, caught in the middle of his parents’ fighting, was equally one-dimensional and unlikable. Hyping up the suspense just created a sense of “is that all?” when something did actually happen. When the climax occurred I had stopped caring and just wanted to be finished with the book.