Posts Tagged ‘Barthesque Books’

I discovered ‘Sleeping Patterns’ by J.R.Crook through Andrew’s beautiful review of it. Andrew also interviewed the author and after reading that fascinating interview, I decided that I had to read this book. At around a hundred pages, it was a slim book and I finished reading it in a day. Here is what I think.

Sleeping Patterns By JR Crook

‘Sleeping Patterns’ is an unusual book. It starts with a dedication to the memory of the author, implying that the author is dead. Then there is an introduction written by Annelie Strandli, who is one of the characters in the story. Annelie says in the introduction that she knew Jamie Crook (the author) quite well, which interestingly means that the author is also a part of the story. Annelie says in the introduction that she got the chapters of this book from Jamie one after the other and they arrived, apparently, in a random order which made sense to her only after she had read the complete book. The book starts with chapter 5 and then goes to chapter 1 and then to chapter 9 and then to chapter 11 and then continues in this vein. The story has multiple layers and sometimes characters jump across layers making the reader contemplate on which is the real story and which is the imagined one.


The main story – well, before I finish this sentence, I should add a qualifier, a huge one, to that ‘main’. As the book has multiple layers, it is difficult to tell which is the main story and which are the supporting ones. It is all a matter of perspective and so it will differ from reader to reader. So, when I say ‘the main story’, I am meaning that it is the main story from my perspective. So, let me finish the sentence I started then. The main story is about a few people who live in an apartment complex. The main character is Berry Walker, an unambitious and unconventional man who lives a rich, dreamy internal life and who is also an aspiring writer. The other main character is Annelie Strandli, who has newly moved into the apartment complex. Then there are the other characters who live in the same building, the author Jamie Crook, Berry Walker’s friend Jack Fleeting and Annelie’s friends Catrina Bloodly and Molly Colour. Jamie Crook doesn’t seem to play a major part in the story but seems to watch events from a distance with the occasional interaction with one of the characters. Berry appears to like Annelie. Annelie is intrigued by Berry and wants to discover him through his writings. She manages to gain access to his room and finds printed papers hidden in his desk. She finds fragments of a novel there and starts reading it. The rest of the book is about how the story in that novel progresses and how the real life story of Berry and Annalie evolves. That is putting it simplistically.


I have to say something about the layers in the book. There is the main story of Berry and Annalie. There is also the story in Berry’s novel that Annalie is reading. That novel is about the life of a character called Boy One. Then there is a dream that Boy One has and the events that happen in that dream. I could discover atleast these three layers in the story. It will be interesting to take a character and track him / her across these different layers. For our example, if we take Annelie as the character for study, I could discover this. She is one of the main characters in the main story. Then there is the book that she is reading. In that book Boy One has a dream. In that dream there is an ideal woman who appears to him. Then this ideal woman appears in his office in real life. And something makes me think that she is really like Annelie. And so we have this situation :


There is a beautiful woman in Boy One’s dream – she appears in real life in Boy One’s work place – the woman who is reading Boy One’s story, Annelie, looks like the beautiful woman in his story – Annelie writes the introduction to the novel in which she is a part of, which makes Annelie a real person and so a part of our real world.


The character of Annelie seems to jump through four different layers, the three layers of the story and then into real life. If we look at the character of Benny Walker more closely, we discover the same thing too, which leads to some interesting surprises. The author cleverly combines reality with imagination – the main story and with the-story-within-the-story and with the dream in this last story –  and makes it all seem like a seamless web. The dividing lines between reality and imagination and dreams are clearly blurred. After some point we don’t know which is which.


I found the random ordering of chapters quite interesting. Throughout most of the book, I kept looking at the present chapter number and then finding the chapter numbers closest to it out of the ones I had already read and trying to sequence the events in linear form. Sometimes this sequencing worked. At other times it didn’t work – for example, sometimes a later chapter was set during an earlier time period or sometimes consecutive chapters weren’t really connected. At some point I stopped thinking about chapter numbers and went on reading the story. But my experience of trying to find a linear narrative made me think. It made me think on whether we do this naturally – trying to order events chronologically or in some other way like in the ascending order of chapter numbers – or are we conditioned to think this way, to find a narrative in random scenes where none exists? It was an interesting thing to ponder, because at some point of time, the chapter numbers didn’t seem to matter to me.


I have to say something about the physical aspects of the book too. The pages of the book were thick and smooth and soft (I love thick pages in books) and the cover was thick but had a soft, leathery touch. The font was big and beautiful. In terms of physical perfection, the book was up there on the top. So, it was a pleasure to touch the cover, flip through the pages and enjoy the look and feel of the book. I keep looking at a beautiful book like this and wonder how the Kindle will ever replace it.


‘Sleeping Patterns’ is an interesting and unusual book. (I haven’t read many experimental novels, but if you are interested, you can find a list of similar novels in Andrew’s review.) For a first time writer, it is a wonderful book. It is a good ‘book club’ book as it will lead to many fascinating discussions. It is also an interesting book for literature enthusiasts who like Barthes, Derrida and the like. If you like reading experimental novels you will like ‘Sleeping Patterns’.


After reading Andrew’s ‘On the Holloway Road’ and now J.R.Crook’s ‘Sleeping Patterns’, both of which are Luke Bitmead bursary winners and both of which I liked very much, I feel that I will like the other books which have won this award too. So, I want to read the other winners, Ruth Dugdall’s ‘The Woman Before Me’ and Sophie Duffy’s ‘The Generation Game’, next. I also can’t wait to find out what J.R.Crook comes up with next.


I will leave you with some of my favourite lines from the book.


The hallway she would reach on the seventh floor would be dimly lit and grey. She would walk along it and from underneath each of the closed doors she passed by, feel rushes of cold air on her bare ankles that would make her shiver.


      There was not so much as anything wrong with Boy One, rather his priorities were opposite to what is generally considered right. He was a dreamer. To him, it seemed as if the people he was surrounded by – his parents, his peers, the residents of the small town where he lived – all held the act of dreaming in little regard. They had all consigned dreaming to the small hours, to times of nocturnal abandon. They only dreamt in secluded places, in blanketed corners. They paid little, if any attention toward the theatre of the naked mind and preferred, upon daybreak, to forget their times spent wandering in the clouds.

      For Boy One however, the arena of sleep was wide, and the dreams it contained were without walls or recipe. He believed there to be no quilted nest, or daytime routine that could ever stop him from dreaming whenever he pleased. The difference between Boy One and his peers was that he always contested his alarm clock and allowed his dreaming to overflow into the daylight hours.


…he discarded his finished cigarette and, as he moved back, blew his last stream of smoke towards the window. He observed how the smoke crashed against the glass, spread out like a wave and broke at the frame.


Some of her best qualities were ones of childhood – of earthy sweetness, of smiles for simple things, of concerning herself without prejudice to small matters of empathy – as if she had somehow managed to smuggle them, without losing their potency, into her emerging adulthood.


He was a self-saboteur, whose internal life was a party without noise or lights. Prescribing to himself certain medicines that made the spaces beyond it easier to neglect, he stayed mostly upon his bed and unconcerned with the surrounding tides. He was happy to spend whole days doing nothing but lying back and ambling about mazes of his own making.


Have you read J.R.Crook’s ‘Sleeping Patterns’? What do you think about it?

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