At the beginning of James Hanley’s A Dream Journey, Clement Stevens is fifty-six years old; his wife, Lena, is perhaps as much as ten years older. Clem is a painter, unsuccessful and dissatisfied with his own work. Lena and he live in a flat in Chesil Place in Chelsea that they have occupied since before World War II. The building has been badly damaged by bombs dropped on London, and it is scheduled to be demolished to provide a site for a block of new apartments. Clem and Lena have little money, just enough for food, rent, and the bottles of whiskey on which he depends. Alone in the building except for the caretaker Mr. Grimpen and his wife, Cis, who live in the basement, Clem and his wife get on each other’s nerves. Clem is aware that his moodiness and drinking, fed by an inability to paint, bother Lena, and he suspects, correctly, that his wife considers not coming home every time she leaves the flat to do her weekly shopping in Euston. Lena learns from Dr. Beecham that she must have a breast removed because of cancer, and Clem takes pills she gets for herself from Beecham because he has a bad heart.
Hanley calls this first section of the novel “Today” and follows it with a section titled “Yesterday,” in which he focuses on two days in 1940 during the heavy German bombing of London. The building is full of people. Richard Jones and his wife, Gwyn, live in one apartment. Jones is an air raid warden and herds the residents of the building into a basement shelter. In addition to Clem and Lena Stevens, who carry a huge, unfinished canvas with them every time they come down to the shelter, Jones is responsible for the Frasers, an elderly couple living on a civil servant’s pension; The Royal Air Force pilot Robinson and his wife and child; and a drunken sailor named...
(The entire section is 732 words.)