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The Law of Dreams

Written by Peter Behrens

  • 408 Pages
  • 9780887847745
  • 8.250" x 5.560"
  • FICTION / Sagas
  • FICTION / Historical
  • FICTION / Literary


Publication Date August 01, 2007

Winner of the Governor General's Award for Fiction. Peter Behrens's bestselling novel is gorgeously written, Homeric in scope, and haunting in its depiction of a young man's perilous journey from innocence to experience.

The Law of Dreams follows Fergus O'Brien from Ireland to Liverpool and Wales during the Great Potato Famine of 1847, and then beyond -- to a harrowing Atlantic crossing to Montreal. On the way, Fergus loses his family, discovers a teeming world beyond the hill farm where he was born, and experiences three great loves.

Winner of the Governor General's Literary Awards: Fiction 2006

Short-listed for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize 2007

Short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize - Best Book 2007

Short-listed for the CBA Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year 2007

Short-listed for the in Canada First Novel Award 2007


Peter Behrens

Peter Behrens’s first novel The Law of Dreams won the Governor-General’s Award for Fiction, and has been published in nine languages. His collection of short stories, Travelling Light, was reissued in 2013, and his second novel, The O’Briens, was published in 2011. His stories and essays have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Tin House, Brick, Best Canadian Stories, Best Canadian Essays, and many anthologies. Behrens is a native of Montreal and was educated at Lower Canada College, Concordia University, and McGill. He has held a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford University and was a Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He lives in Maine and Texas.


"...Behrens has fashioned a beautiful idiom for his book, studded with slippery archaisms and mournful, musical refrains...the language and the things it describes seem to be spun out of a single material. And we move through it as willingly, or compulsively, as the protagonist, the wind of love and hate at our backs." Newsday

"...The Law of Dreams rings with a strange, hard poetry, a mingling of Behrens's rich narrative voice and scraps of startling wisdom that seem to emanate directly from Fergus's mind...In the life of this determined young man, Behrens illuminates one of the 19th century's greatest tragedies and the massive migration it launched. A novel that animates the past this vibrantly should make volumes of mere history blush. 'Life burns hot,' Fergus thinks, and so do these pages." Washington Post

"...a compelling read, notable for its spare, lyrical use of language." Montreal Gazette

" absorbing, unsparing and beautifully written account of one man's escape from the charnel house that Ireland became." New York Times

"...enjoy the sprawling, cinematically rendered immigrant story." Publishers Weekly

"...there is much in The Law of excite admiration." Literary Review of Canada

"A lengthy yet surprisingly fast-moving story, The Law of Dreams is sure to establish this Canadian writer as a serious literary talent...Behrens' use of crisp dialogue clearly conveys the fear, the longing and the unbridled hope of a young man teetering on the brink between starvation and salvation. But it is in his economical narrative that Behrens truly shines. 'Life honed to the very edge. Sharpened on a whetstone. Chopping through the days. Working time like it was a sweep of hay.'" Winnipeg Free Press

"An action-driven tale stuffed with fascinating historical research." National Post

"An emotional epic bearing echoes of Melville and Ondaatje, conveying scents and shimmers of a vanished world under the skin of our own." Jonathan Lethem

"From a mountaintop in Ireland to the beckoning promise of America, there are scenes that will remain imprinted upon the reader's mind. Peter Behrens is a tremendously talented writer." Alistair MacLeod

"Inspired by his own family history, Behrens has fashioned a paean to the strength of the human spirit that illuminates a piece of history. The law of dreams is to keep moving, and that's what Fergus does, taking advantage of opportunities even as he is haunted by dreams and hurt by betrayal. Behrens tells this story in spare prose that distills ideas to their essence, making this absorbing historical fiction." Booklist

"One of the many fine things about Peter Behrens' stunningly lyric first novel, The Law of Dreams, is that it is emphatically a story of that great hunger, a work of richly empathetic imagination that reminds us once again of how powerful historical fiction can be in skilled hands. In fact, the story has a factual and emotional authenticity that calls to mind the similarly masterful debut Thomas Flanagan made with his now classic novel of Irish history, The Year of the French." LA Times

"The Law of Dreams is the best literary adventure novel I've read since Lonesome Dove, a brilliant heart-felt celebration of the capacity of the human spirit." Howard Mosher

"The Law of Dreams lowers a tape recorder into the pit of history. All that was lost, everything we've forgotten, is suddenly restored. The research is prodigious, the story is epic, the structure is bold, and the ancient language is something new and wondrous to our ears." Clark Blaise

"This book is a beautifully written, poetically inspired tale of heroism, love, yes and sex, and the triumph of the human spirit over murderous greed. It's a long road that Behrens makes shorter with many a surprising turn. The Law of Dreams is one great book. I stayed up into the wee hours to finish it. I envy you this journey." Malachy McCourt