Book review: DallerGut Dream Department Store – The Dream You Ordered is Sold Out by Miye Lee (translated by Sandy Joosun Lee)

(courtesy Hachette Australia)

There’s a scene in Pixar’s superlatively moving film Inside Out where Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Bing Bong (Richard Kind) are passing through the part of the mind where dreams are made and Joy tries, and ultimately fails, not to fangirl over Rainbow Unicorn, the star of her favourite dream.

That one moment, and indeed the whole dream factory scene is ridiculously clever and imaginative, from the posters on the walls advertising stock standard dreams like I’m Falling for a Very Long Time into a Pit and Something’s Chasing Me through to the on-set peek which resembles the production process of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and it makes you wish you too could journey into the technicolour weirdness of your own dream-producing subconscious.

Well, now you can thanks to the worldwide bestseller ode to dreams, fulfilment and creativity, DallerGut Dream Department Store by Miye Lee, which sold huge numbers in the author’s home country of South Korea, largely I suspect because it takes an intriguing premise and not world-builds superbly but adds some real emotional weight and humanity into its extraordinary world.

In the magical world where dreams are made – resident in our collective subconscious, you can only visit it in your sleep which means, as is the way with dreaming, that no one remembers being there once they wake – sits the titular store where people are able to come and browse and buy a dream of their choosing, with most but not all purchases, catering to the warm-and-fuzzy, adventurous end of the spectrum.

DallerGut finally give a wide smile, which Penny thinks makes him look a decade younger. His dark brown eyes gaze steadily at her.

‘Penny, can you start tomorrow?’

‘Of course!’ The once-muted background noises start seeping into the office room. The moment Penny gets her first job.

Owned by an eccentrically lovable man named Dallergut who is as hands-on as he can be, and who is Wonka-lite without the benign cruelty, the department store’s employees are as idiosyncratic as their boss, all of them invested in helping people, and yes, animals (so Fido really is dreaming when you see him moving his legs in his sleep) fulfill themselves as much as them paying for the dream that’s right for them.

Paying for the dreams is as fascinating as the fact that you can buy them in the first place.

Dallergut makes its ephemeral money from the joy or elation or sense of accomplishment, or a thousand other emotions that people feel in the immediate aftermath of their dream; while the memory of a dream may fade quickly, the emotions often linger a little longer and it’s this emotional response that feeds the coffers of Dallergut Department Store whose clientele are always clad in their sleep wear (those who sleep naked are dressed by roving Noctilucas) and who might be loyal customers but only while asleep.

Into this vibrantly unusual and utterly beguiling place in a world that is so whimsically rich and wonderful and populated by people for whom this is home, comes new hire Penny and it’s through her eager eyes that we experience DallerGut Dream Department Store and its wondrously rich and affecting storyline which reminds us that there is a place to escape from the everyday and it’s enchantingly, heartwarmingly lovely in almost every day.

(courtesy Hachette UK)

What marks DallerGut Dream Department Store out as something special, quite apart from the thoughtfulness that Lee brings to her wondrously magical creation, is how groundedly human it all feels.

Yes, all the trappings are otherworldly and a thousand years from the banal weight of the day-to-day world but at its heart, this dreamy reality is filled with people like Penny and the flamboyantly fun Dallergut himself who care not simply about making “money” but about bettering the lives of everyone who passes through their doors.

These customers are almost never directly grateful since they forget who gave them the insight, ascribing it merely to the workings of their subconscious – the only exception are Lucid Dreamers who can not only control their dreams but who remember everything about them – but that matters not; what does concern Penny and those who work round her is that people struggling with creative roadblocks, low sense of self worth or stymied life goals find a way to free themselves and achieve what their heart desires.

This is capitalism with a heart and while the world of DallerGut Dream Department Store revolves around success, awards and accolades as much as ours does – there’s even an Oscars-like night of awards where the best dream makers are feted, their celebrity further burnished by their awards – it’s beating heart is a selfless one and it’s this innate generosity of spirit that makes the world of Dallergut and his peers so entrancingly rewarding to enter and lose yourself in.

‘Good idea!’

Everyone raises their glasses.

Nicholas stands up and shouts, ‘Let’s eat well, sleep well, and have sweet dreams!’

It’s whimsicality and quirky with some real emotional muscularity and it works a treat, offering you brightly-decked vivacious escape and a sense of fulfilment and a reassurance that while your dreams might seems ephemeral and light they have real purpose and can affect who you are and how your life goes on.

It’s a beguiling idea that you’re not alone in this life and it’s one Miye Lee uses to beautifully thoughtful effect, investing DallerGut Dream Department Store with the sense of the oft-strange landscape of dreaming explained and dreams given a form that makes some sort of sense beyond the surreal strangeness of much of the storytelling contained within them.

It’s comforting to have familiarity and humanity woven into the rampant weirdness of dreaming and Lee uses it to impressive emotionally connective effect throughout DallerGut Dream Department Store, giving us real world characters for whom the dreams are as tangible as the non-sleeping world (even if they can’t consciously remember them, the effects remain) and characters from the magical world of dreams who are vital and creative and committed not just to their art but to what it can accomplish and those whom it can positively affect. (There’s also a lovely Christmas element woven into the story with Santa playing a pivotal and surprising role that upends everything you thought you knew about him; it’s emblematic of the fun originality that permeates this most inventive of novels.)

You will adore Penny and her journey from naïve first-dayer to someone who learns and grows through her job and whose willingness to question and to push boundaries because she cares and what she does matters infuses DallerGut Dream Department Store with a warmth and substance to go along with its breathlessly wondrous imaginative premise, its cosy but meaningful execution and its innate humanity which anchors the wispiness of dreams to the stuff of emotions and life, anchoring you to a narrative that is as strange as your dreams in some ways but wholly affecting and real in so many others.

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