The House of Sleep | Jonathan Coe

“If she noticed that Gregory’s tastes in music showed a marked tendency towards pieces that were dry, academic and emotionless, she did not allow it to bother her. Not, at any rate, until she discovered that these same qualities characterized his lovemaking”

— Jonathan Coe, The House of Sleep

Intricate and puzzling, The House of Sleep causes both laughter and discomfort, its flawed characters leaving readers a bittersweet aftertaste…

The novel revolves around four protagonists, each one stranger than the next. Sarah, who is narcoleptic, cannot differentiate her dreams from reality. Gregory, her weird, dangerous and ambitious boyfriend, is obsessed with sleep – and the lack of it. Terry spends his nights watching movies instead of sleeping, while Robert … well, Robert doesn’t really have any sleep problem, but he will suffer from the others’ disorders.

The House of Sleep, Jonathan Coe, 2014, Penguin
Source: Penguin

The novel sometimes reads more like an exercise for its own sake rather than a truly compelling story. The four characters all stayed at Ashdown as students in the 80s and will return back to this Gothic manor in the 90s, after the mansion has been turned into a sleep clinic.

Their lives are so intertwined that the story loses its – already thin – credibility, although we can’t help marvelling at the intricacies of the novel. The author must have spent quite a lot of time working on his plan before completing his work!

Fortunately, Jonathan Coe’s wit and humour add a good touch of casualness to The House of Sleep, making it far less serious than it could have been in light of the topics broached. Obsession, love, identity, time, sexuality, trust, friendship, art, feminism, etc. There is food for thought, enough to keep you awake!

Readers simply have to suspend their disbelief and take the story for what it is, at least in my view: a demonstration of Coe’s skills at writing, devising clever plots and leading his readers around by the nose whilst exploring complex, weird and unbelievable personalities.

The novel’s few secondary characters are as well-crafted as the protagonists and perhaps even more endearing, for their flaws are not as obvious as the others’. I particularly loved Veronica, who might well be the real protagonist, the story’s cement, the one who gives it its consistency and real appeal.

A nice and interesting read, but definitely not my favourite book of the year. Nonetheless, I was delighted to read another of Coe’s novels after The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, and I would be more than happy to pick up another one in a few months’ time!

My rating

A nice read

About the book

Author: Jonathan Coe
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication year: 2014 (first published in 1997)
Page count: 352
ISBN: 978-0241967744

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