by Marie Darrieussecq, translated by Penny Hueston
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Pub Date 16 Aug 2023 | Archive Date 16 Aug 2023
Plagued by insomnia for twenty years, Marie Darrieussecq turns her attention to the causes, implications and consequences of sleeplessness: a nocturnal suffering that culminates at 4 a.m. and then defines the next day. In Sleepless, she recounts her own experiences alongside those of fellow insomniacs, mostly writers – ‘as if writing were not sleeping’ – Ovid, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Marguerite Duras, Franz Kafka, Georges Perec and others. With her inimitable humour, she describes her dealings with a somnologist and her attempts to find a remedy – trying sleeping pills, cannabis, alcohol, bedtime rituals, acupuncture, yoga, hypnosis, psychoanalysis, a gravity blanket and a range of sleep-aid devices. Darrieussecq considers bedrooms, beds, clinophilia (‘the tendency to remain in a prone position without sleeping for prolonged periods of time’), her need to be alone in bed, those without beds, the homeless, refugees, trauma and capitalism’s role in sleeplessness, our constant wakefulness online, the forest as a hypnagogic zone and how our relationship with animals is connected to our sleep, or lack of it. Ranging between autobiography, clinical observation and criticism, Sleepless is a graceful, inventive meditation by one of the most daring, inventive novelists writing today.
For fans of Insomnia by Marina Benjamin, Yoga by Emmanuel Carrère, Rest is Resistance, and Samantha Harvey.
‘Marie Darrieussecq invites us on an extended patrol of the corridors of Hotel Insomnia in the company of the ghosts of the famous sleep-deprived, then turns to the story of her own intimate tussle with sleep that will not come. Amid the torrent of publications in the new sleep science, this is the only book I know that concedes to sleep its proper majesty and its own dark poetry.’
— J. M. Coetzee
‘An exhilarating book that kept me up and got me thinking.’
— Le Canard Enchaîné
‘A funny, moving, metaphysical and novelistic self-portrait that is also a portrait of our times.’
‘Sleepless reaches far into our sleepless nights.... The result is a masterful work on the art of sleep.’
— Les Inrockuptibles
‘An exciting and poetic work, both an intimate narrative and a meditative essay.’
‘A hypnotic, inexhaustible book.’
— Philosophie Magazine
‘Sleepless is an amazing text, between prose and document, reflection and quotation, from Kant to the film Alien, from Kafka to Gilles Barbier, from Gabon to the Basque country, and through various hotel rooms occupied by sleepless nights.... If what we read is extremely intimate and personal, everything about us, everything in us, can also be found in these pages. One can read Sleepless to project oneself into an insomniac sister; one can read it for the author’s sparkling stories and analyses, for her incredibly smart readings of Kafka and Perec, or for her reflections on capitalism, burn-out and the race for productivity that repudiates everything that does not fit into its master plan.’
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 11 members
Sleepless by Marie Darrieussecq is a fascinating and thought-provoking book about the experience of insomnia. Darrieussecq, a French novelist and essayist, writes with wit and insight about the physical and psychological effects of sleeplessness, as well as the cultural and historical meanings of sleep.
The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Darrieussecq describes her own experiences with insomnia, from the early days when she would lie awake for hours at night worrying about everything under the sun, to the more recent years when she has developed a kind of hypervigilance that makes it difficult for her to relax enough to fall asleep. She also discusses the different treatments she has tried for insomnia, including medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
In the second part of the book, Darrieussecq explores the cultural and historical meanings of sleep. She discusses the different ways that sleep has been viewed throughout history, from the ancient Greeks who believed that sleep was a time for the soul to travel to the underworld, to the modern world where sleep is often seen as a luxury that we can't afford. She also looks at the different ways that sleep is portrayed in literature and film.
The third part of the book is a meditation on the nature of sleep itself. Darrieussecq asks questions about what sleep is, why we sleep, and what happens when we don't sleep. She also discusses the relationship between sleep and creativity, and the ways that sleep can be both a source of inspiration and a hindrance to productivity.
Sleepless is a beautifully written and thought-provoking book that offers a unique perspective on the experience of insomnia. Darrieussecq's writing is clear, engaging, and insightful, and she does a masterful job of capturing the physical and psychological effects of sleeplessness. The book is also full of interesting insights into the cultural and historical meanings of sleep.
SLEEPLESS is a collection of essays that muses on the state of insomnia. Marie Darrieussecq (translated by Penny Hueston) recounts her own experiences alongside those of fellow insomniacs, weaving endless literary references to insomnia throughout her writing, as she ponders its possible causes and its possible cures.
Collections of essays don't always work for me, as I find it can be difficult to strike a balance between fragments and cohesion, personal experience and broader applicability, but SLEEPLESS makes it look easy. I love the idea of centring an entire collection of essays on sleeplessness, and Darrieussecq takes the topic to places I couldn't have imagined, tackling some hard-hitting themes, including suicide, post-traumatic stress, and anthropocentrism. The range she covers is phenomenal, and yet the writing always feels purposeful, deliberate, and cohesive. I was particularly struck by how many writers suffered from, and wrote about, insomnia. I love the way Darrieussecq uses insomnia to write about writing, and she has made me rethink so many works of literature.
I liked how readable SLEEPLESS is, the writing broken down into chunks without ever feeling fragmented, and supplemented with some powerful images. There is also a streak of black humour running through the book that I appreciated, which especially surfaces in Darrieussecq's anecdotes of her attempts at insomnia cures. I gulped down SLEEPLESS in two sittings, haunted by its words and images in the moments in between. This is one of those books that I wanted to start rereading as soon as I had finished it, and I will definitely be seeking out more of Darrieussecq's and Hueston's writing.