The House of Sleep Hardcover – February 17, 1998
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Publisher : Knopf; 1st American ed edition (February 17, 1998)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 331 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0375400931
- ISBN-13 : 978-0375400933
- Item Weight : 1.25 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1 x 8.75 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,216,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself." -Delia Owens Learn more
Top reviews from the United States
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In rather abrupt shifts from the present to the past, it is learned that "Gregory" from the student days, now Dr. Dudden and proprietor of the clinic, is able to indulge his creepy, voyeuristic obsessions with sleep, including bothersome experiments in the basement of his clinic. Terry Worth, a film student and now a noted film critic, has been invited to the clinic as an object for study because of his claims that he virtually never sleeps. Sarah, now a school teacher, has led a distressing life due to any number of complications and embarrassments related to her undiagnosed narcolepsy and a disturbing inability to separate vivid dreams from reality. Among them all, it is Robert who is most troubled because he cannot resolve his sub-conscious gender-identity issues with his painful, total love for Sarah, whose flights from reality he vigorously defends. And it is Robert who seems to be unaccounted for at this later date.
The book is complexly plotted, with more than a few convenient coincidences and bits and pieces of information slowly revealed, which allows both the reader and the characters to not only fill in the blanks of the past, but also to perhaps permit some measure of closure on long-standing concerns. There are some important secondary characters who supply key information at the right time, such as a young girl who Robert and Sarah had taken to the beach many years before.
The book is not without its edifying aspects concerning sleep disorder technicalities, but it is the social implications that stand out. The implied commentary on excessiveness and absurdities is most interesting. Dudden's one-dimensional approach to sleep disorders, under the shield of scientific method, ignoring social realities and consequences, comes to mind. Terry is an odd character. First, there is his obsession with an Italian film director and a supposedly lost film and its perplexing connection to a dream of Robert's. However, his shift from sleeping fourteen hours a day as a student to eschewing all sleep represents the ridiculous, given voice by Dudden's declaration that sleep is for losers.
Despite various complexities and elements of the story, the book actually reads quite well. The characters are a bit exaggerated and are not necessarily as well known as one may like, but the book is best at presenting an interesting combination of dreams and hopes, misunderstandings - both of self and others, the recognition and fragility of love, and the possibilities of ever getting a handle on it all.
The authors follow the characters through their decisions, fears and events in their lives. EAch of them impacts each other's lives in extreme ways. None of them seem to be happy with their lives or who they are
On its surface, the story is not too striking, hence the reason I was not at first interested by reviews and comments. A group of students, each bearing a heavy burden of intriguing personality quirks and neuroses, meet while living in the same dormitory house, to find that twelve years later, their lives are still intricately related. Beautiful and fragile Sarah, a narcoleptic, has dreams so vivid that she (and by persuasion, sometimes others) mistake them for reality. Robert, a tortured individual who desparately loves her, can never seem to be the right person for her at the right moment. Terry, their friend, spends half his life in search of a lost Italian film, for which there's no evidence aside from a single photograph, to which references appear at odd times in others' dreams. Other characters include Ruby, the groundskeepers' daughter who has discovered that "people never lie when talking in their sleep," and Gregory, Sarah's first lover, who harbors an unnatural obsession with watching Sarah sleep.
The cunning presentation of the novel, however, consists of its being told in two times at once, the early 80s and the mid 90s, but both in a chronological fashion, such that experiences in the past which trigger occurrences in the present and present revelations about past events occur in quick succession. Carefully placed epiphanies mark each chapter like milestones on the way through the plot of the book. The author also makes very adept use of varied narrative technique, including letters, transcripts, journal articles, along with characters' verbose descriptions of events, dreams, and memories, to add variety and strength to the writing. At the end of the novel, a collage of a poem (tidbits of which were scattered throughout the novel, as its author constructed it in his head), a letter, and a transcript provide a far more powerful depiction of denoument events than any narration alone could accomplish.
The book is at times haunting, hypnotic, viciously humorous, and unceasingly disturbing, and forgiving a slightly melodramatic turn of events at its climax, serves as an extraordinary work of fiction.
Top reviews from other countries
Alternate chapters recount the story from the 1980s and from June 1996. The student house becomes a private clinic specializing in sleep disorders run by the ghastly Gregory who was Sarah's sadistic lover in student days. Terry, a friend of Sarah's, arrives as a patient and is surprised that Gregory's assistant Cleo reminds him of Robert and wonders if she could be his sister.
Lots of very funny bits but with some really dark moments. The whole structure is all very cleverly worked out - it propels the reader (well, me anyway) along as you really want to know how everything turns out.
Although there are a few slightly outrageous coincidences in the book, the interesting construction and characters make these forgiveable. Coe's unusual love story is set partly in 1983 and partly in 1996, jumping backwards and forwards from chapter to chapter. Woven into the shifting realities of 'now' (83) and memories of then through the filter of now (96) is also the dislocation of dreams and 'reality'; dreams which can seem more real (and memorable) than reality. It's at times a very funny book and a very shocking and heart-rending one, and an exploration of shifting identities and the obsessions on which we can build our lives. His perfectly interlocking narrative without any wasted characters - all have a purpose in the narration - is a delight. I shall read more Coe.