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Madison Smartt Bell: Doctor Sleep

Bell has given us the somewhat marginal characters of society, coupled with a dabbling in religion and mysticism, though he seems to jump around as regards his favourites in these two categories. In this novel, it is Giordano Bruno, a man who lived in the sixteenth century, was burned at the stake for being a heretic and was an influence on, amongst others, James Joyce. Our hero is Adrian Strother, an American hypnotist living in London, who cannot sleep, recently abandoned by Clara, his girlfriend, and a man who does side work for Scotland Yard, which is how this novel is going to lead him into murky waters. Apart from Clara and his sleeplessness, Adrian has a host of other problems – a serial killer is killing young girls, a drug dealer is following him, his snake will not eat, the man he escaped from to London, Stuart, a former fellow junkie, is in town and he’s almost out of coffee. Adrian, a former junkie, is a great believer in Gnosticism – the idea that everybody and everything contains the divine. Stuart was also interested in Clara and is now spreading the anti-drug gospel. Nicole also turns up. She was Adrian’s girlfriend, formerly a prostitute, and has been Stuart’s wife as well. Poor Adrian drifts through this novel, half-asleep, trying to deal with all of his myriad problems and it is to Bell’s credit that the various parts of the plot do hang together, that we can more or less sympathise with Adrian and his plight and his Gnosticism and the novel is funny, gripping and very well told.

Publishing history

First published 1991 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich