THE HOUSE OF SLEEP by Jonathan Coe


Email this review


An audacious, often wickedly funny meditation on the vexed precincts of sleep and sex, following the adventures of four characters whose wayward paths repeatedly intertwine, by the author of The Winshaw Legacy (1995). Ashdown, an elderly mansion on the English coast, is serving, in 1983, as a residence for university students. Bright, insecure Sarah lives there, trapped in a relationship with manipulative Gregory, and increasingly drawn to fragile, troubled Robert. Terry, obsessed with cinema, shares with Sarah a sleep disorder: Sarah falls into fugue-like states in which her dreams become more convincing than reality; Terry, fueled by coffee and the drive to succeed, finds it increasingly difficult to sleep at all. Gregory dumps Sarah, and goes off to London to make his way in medical research. Robert disappears, and is later rumored to be dead. Thirteen years later, Terry and Gregory end up back at Ashdown. It has now become the site of Gregory's controversial sleep research clinic. Terry, a failed writer, returns as a patient, having, he claims, been unable to sleep for most of the past decade. Convinced that humanity is tyrannized by sleep, Gregory is secretly searching for a way to teach humans to do without it, experimenting on rats, dogs, and, finally, people--with devastating results. Sarah, having tried both marriage and a long lesbian affair, still pines for Robert. The hectic plot provides Coe with plenty of opportunities to satirize British medicine and the increasingly harsh, hustling nature of British society, as well as the confusions of modern love. Weaving through the story, offering a variety of metaphors for creativity and sex, is the dark river of sleep. Gregory gets a grisly, appropriate comeuppance, and an astonishingly transformed Robert reunites with Sarah in one of the strangest, and most moving, encounters in recent fiction. In all: a droll, ingenious novel, its satire nicely leavened by tree romance.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0375700889
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf