Take a pinch of Clockwork Orange. Add a large portion of Carroll, Coleridge and Blake and a couple of thrillers, preferably the kind where innocent people are hounded by gangsters. Top it all off with a whiff of Life on Mars, a healthy dose of cynicism and a wooly hat full of reggae. Light the blue touch paper and stand well back!
You are now entering Selim Özdogan's new novel Zwischen zwei Träumen. And it's a very odd place. Alongside Giwi Margwelaschwili's Officer Pembry, this is probably the oddest book I've read in a long time. The plot is set in a deliberately generic dystopian world, now or the day after tomorrow, in which the latest hedonistic hobby is "dream drops" - consuming other people's dreams in the form of eye drops. No prospects? No mates? Nothing better to do? Why not try a nice flying dream, or one with a beautiful bright light at the end, or an erotic dream to get you in the mood for a meaningless shag with the supermarket cashier upstairs? And while your old friends get their lives together and make it big, you end up a sad addict, sleeping on the sofa of an acquaintance you met in a dream bar and losing even your dead-end job. You - that's Nesta, the bumbling hero of Zwischen zwei Träumen (Between Two Dreams).
Part one is fascinating, a parable perhaps for our consumer culture, in which we don't bother to experience the world at first hand, instead immersing ourselves in other people's dreams-turned-product: films, TV, computer games and, yes, books. And it's very enjoyable, very much along the lines of Özdogan's earlier writing (with the exception of Die Tochter des Schmieds) - a young man's life and loves dissected, capturing the essence – the self-doubt, the occasional hopelessness and the moments of joy and excitement, albeit drug and dream-induced. This is more than cheap fantasy literature.
In part two, though, everything shifts seriously out of joint. The door of perception in the basement laundry opens and Nesta and his amnesiac flatmate walk into a dream world, in an attempt to rescue his friend Tedeisha. It's, um, psychedelic, man, including the requisite toadstools, bong-smoking rastafarian prophet and omniscient Native American granny. But strangely, I didn't want to put it down. Because despite what you may expect, the plot is strong enough to take even the world's greatest anti-esoteric cynic coasting through the dream world and out on the other side - to part three.
Rescued from her dream-induced coma, Tedeisha finally gets it together with Nesta. The final part continues their love story but adopts the form of a thriller - just in case you were finding the book too easy to pigeonhole so far. The dream drops are banned and Tedeisha lands herself and Nesta in trouble with the police and a crazed dream baron, while we follow her attempts to rescue them by digging their hole deeper and deeper. True to form, Özdogan's characteristic melancholy knocks off the rose-tinted spectacles - no happy ending with butterflies fluttering above country meadows here.
I have to warn you though: Zwischen zwei Träumen should come with a health warning – it's addictive stuff. I spent a day and a half neglecting my offspring, trapped in my own dream world and telling myself I could stop whenever I wanted. Özdogan's dystopia is populated by bizarre characters: washed-up rock stars, blind yogis, enigmatic tattoo artists and a man who never sleeps. It comes with its own soundtrack, the sound of mint, dub and funk and ska, dropping tracks and dropping pills - but it's a world without live music, where the best tunes come out of dreams and computers. And those who know Özdogan's writing will recognise his cynical voice throughout, philosophising on the nature of love, loneliness, friendship and life itself.
Incidentally, the author answers the obvious question - what is this guy on? - in his regular Zeit column. Or as much as he's ever going to anyway.