In a mysterious town that lies hidden in our collective subconscious, there’s a quaint little store where all kinds of dreams are sold. Day and night, visitors from all over the world shuffle in sleepily in their pajamas, lining up to purchase their latest adventure.
That’s the premise of Dallergut’s Dream Department Store (달러구트 꿈 백화점), a fantasy novel that’s been sitting at the top of Kyobo‘s bestseller list for several months now. The story follows a young girl named Penny, who’s recently gotten a job at the titular department store. Through her eyes, we discover a wonderfully whimsical world that is only open to the asleep. Brightly lit store windows advertising dreams where you get to fly, live as someone else, or spend a day with your favourite celebrity; bustling streets lined with stalls selling fresh onion milk that promises deep, dreamless slumber; and hordes of giant, furry creatures tasked with clothing visitors who have the unfortunate habit of sleeping naked.
The amount of worldbuilding in this is incredible. There’s an annual award show for dream architects, who create the dreams that are being sold at these stores and who are among the most elite in their society. Dreams are paid for in the form of emotions (which reminds me a little of Monster Inc), the intensity of which determines the size of the cheque. There’s even a stock market, where these emotions are traded, the value of which fluctuates, like real-life commodities.
The story, however, left much to be desired – at least for me. I found myself thinking several times while reading that it would be a perfect book for kids. It’s not because it’s whimsical – there are plenty of books that do this well and yet do not come off as actually childish (especially since it’s not actually intended for kids) – it’s that I could feel the author trying to end every chapter on some sort of moral lesson in a way that made the whole thing feel like a Disney show. I wouldn’t mind if it was done well, either, but unfortunately, it came off as boring and sort of patronising in most instances.
The premise had so much potential – I would have loved to see some heavier themes explored, like trauma, which the book did actually cover, but only halfheartedly so it came off as rather oversimplified. I also wish the author spent more time on the stories of those whose lives were impacted by the dreams they chose, which were the highlights of the book for me. Most of them felt a bit flat and rushed, but there were a few towards the end that stood out to me. One of them actually moved me to tears, which made me both happy and a little disappointed – happy because I finally found something worthwhile, and a little disappointed that there weren’t more moments like this. If anything, I think it showed the potential of this book (or series – I heard the second book is out already?) and what it could be if done right.
Language-wise, it’s surprisingly complex in terms of grammar (I actually found the Vegetarian easier, which is shocking). It’s nothing an advanced learner can’t handle, but an upper intermediate learner might struggle a little. I also thought some parts read like translated work (think Harry Potter in Korean), and after reading some of the reviews online I realised I wasn’t alone. It’s probably just the author’s personal preference or style, plus all the characters in the book had western-sounding names, so it may have just been a choice on the author’s part to match the setting. In any case, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re considering using this book for reading practice.
Anyway, it’s a fun book – the concept is interesting, the story is fluffy and lighthearted and there are some heartwarming moments here and there. It’s enjoyable enough as long as you don’t go in expecting anything too deep. I had a good time reading it, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up the second book – at least not anytime soon. I hope you found this review helpful, and happy reading!