A restless inquiry into the cultural and psychic sources of insomnia by one of contemporary French literature’s most elegant voices.
Plagued by insomnia for twenty years, Marie Darrieussecq turns her attention to the causes, implications, and consequences of sleeplessness: a nocturnal suffering that culminates at 4 a.m. and then defines the next day. “Insomniac mornings are dead mornings,” she observes. Prevented from falling asleep by her dread of exhaustion the next day, Darrieussecq turns to hypnosis, psychoanalysis, alcohol, pills, and meditation. Her entrapment within this spiraling anguish prompts her inspired, ingenious search across literature, geopolitical history, psychoanalysis, and her own experience to better understand where insomnia comes from and what it might mean. There are those, she writes, in Rwanda, whose vivid memories of genocide leave them awake and transfixed by complete horror; there is the insomnia of the unhoused, who have nowhere to put their heads down. The hyperconnection of urban professional life transforms her bedroom from a haven to a dormant electrified node.
Ranging between autobiography, clinical observation, and criticism, Sleepless is a graceful, inventive meditation by one of the most daring, inventive novelists writing today.
About the Author
Marie Darrieussecq is one of the leading voices in contemporary French literature. Her first novel, Pig Tales, was a finalist for France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1996 and became an international bestseller. Her 2013 novel Men: A Novel of Cinema and Desire received the Prix Médicis, and her luminous, voluptuous portrait of the artist Paula Modersohn-Becker, Being Here Is Everything, was published in English by Semiotext(e) in 2017. Darrieussecq has also worked as a translator and a psychoanalyst.
"Darrieussecq’s memoir is a meditation on the pleasure of sleep stolen, and a reminder to relish every moment of rest." —Darina Sikmashvili, Bomb Magazine
"So eccentric, intelligent and searching that it never gets swamped and never swamps. Its energy is electric, its prose musical. And Penny Hueston’s translation superbly gets to all that’s spiky and wry in Darrieussecq’s prose, as well as all that’s immensely tender." —Samantha Harvey, The Guardian
"A product of 20 years of sleep struggles, this strange but delightful book intertwines a diary of the author’s own restlessness with her collected evidence of the nighttime woes of other writers, including Proust, Duras, Kafka, and Césaire, and their pharmacological means to achieve rest." —Jasmine Vojdani, Vulture
"Sleepless is at its most lyrical when it is at its most intimate—a primal scream, rendered in words. The book is most insightful, however, when Darrieussecq does what every failed sleeper must, eventually: fight the exhaustion and return, again, to the waking world." —Megan Garber, The Atlantic
"An exhilarating book that kept me up and got me thinking." —Le Canard Enchaîné
"A funny, moving, metaphysical, and novelistic self-portrait that is also a portrait of our times." —Elle
"Sleepless reaches far into our sleepless nights … The result is a masterful work on the art of sleep." —Les Inrockuptibles
"A personal meditation that opens your eyes, in every sense of the word … Beware: this book may make you lose sleep!" —Ouest France
"An exciting and poetic work, both an intimate narrative and a meditative essay." —Télérama
"A hypnotic, inexhaustible book." —Philosophie Magazine
"In this book on insomnia, part essay and part autobiography, Marie Darrieussecq calls on many writers who have suffered from not closing their eyes at night ('‘four o'clock in the morning literature’'); she lists the techniques she has tried in vain to get to sleep, and talks frankly about her addiction to alcohol and sleeping pills. She connects her personal case to a global syndrome linked to our era of permanent internet connection." —Libération
"Marie Darrieussecq opens our eyes, although all she wants to do is close her own eyes, and sleep … She gives us an account of everything to do with insomnia, both the rational and irrational aspects." —Le Journal du Dimanche "Sleepless is an amazing text, between prose and document, reflection and quotation, from Kant to the film Alien, from Kafka to Gilles Barbier, from Gabon to the Basque country, and through various hotel rooms occupied by sleepless nights … If what we read is extremely intimate and personal, everything about us, everything in us, can also be found in these pages. One can read Sleepless to project oneself into an insomniac sister; one can read it for the author’s sparkling stories and analyses, for her incredibly smart readings of Kafka and Perec, or for her reflections on capitalism, burn-out and the race for productivity that repudiates everything that does not fit into its master plan. Above all, one can read Sleepless for the staggering object it is." —Diacritik
"What a delight: a book that is erudite, funny, sensitive, moving, forthright, intimate." —Paris-Normandie