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Jonathan Coe: House of Sleep

In the early 80s, a group of students live in the same house, called Ashdown. Some twelve years later, they are back there but the house is no longer a student dormitory but a special hospital for sleep disorders and all the students now have sleep disorders. Sarah is a narcoleptic who, when she falls asleep is not always able to distinguish between her sleeping state and her awake state. At college, she has an affair with the frightful Gregory, who later becomes the director of the sleep institute. Gregory is so awful to her that she starts a lesbian relationship with Veronica. Meanwhile, Robert, who is madly in love with her, can only watch and hope – in vain. Terry, the insomniac film critic is obsessed with finding out about the obscure Italian film director, Salvatore Ortese. It all sounds like some dreary soap opera and could have easily become so but Coe keeps you guessing all the way. What matters for him is the uneasy relationship between love and sleep, between dreams when you are asleep and dreams when you are awake. Some, like Gregory, try to control sleep. Others, like Sarah, are controlled by it, while Terry is indifferent to it. If you substitute the word love for the world sleep, you may see how the two are interrelated. Read the book. It’ll keep you awake.

Publishing history

First published 1997 by Viking