The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe

The House of SleepIntrigued by the title, and looking for a holiday read, I picked this book up not knowing what to expect. What I got was a lot of story, written in chapters that alternate between 2 time periods not very far apart, but far enough to make a cleverly interlinking story. The location and characters are well drawn, making it easy to like some and not be so keen on others, and the underlying theme of the book (sleep – naturally) is dealt with in various interesting ways.

Half of the book is about a group of students living their chaotic lives in a large shared house. One is a narcoleptic who also has vivid dreams that she mistakes for reality, resulting by turns in funny, bizarre and tragic events. Another changes from being a sleep addict into an insomniac, driven by his passion for film.

The chapters set a dozen years after the earlier period find the same characters having moved on in their lives, but returning by coincidence or design to their student house which is now a clinic devoted to the study and treatment of sleep disorders. The conclusion of each character’s story is superbly appropriate, and again, suitably funny, tragic and poignant.

I particularly liked the way the book is presented in sections relating to the different stages of sleep and the connection from the end of some chapters to the beginning of the following ones with a broken sentence bridging the gap. One of the strongest impressions I gained from reading The House of Sleep was that of forgotten and remembered dreams and reality. A very satisfying book, and an author that I shall explore further.


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