‘It is either a work of genius or a triumph of form over substance’ – Sleeping Patterns by J R Crook
Sleeping Patterns is a short novel comprising many stories. The main thrust of the story takes place in a rundown student hostel in South London. Among the residents is the Finnish Annelie Strandli (also referred to as Grethe) who is drawn to Berry Walker, an aspiring writer and insomniac. She wants to understand him and so secretly reads a story he is writing which he keeps locked in his desk drawer. The reader is then shown Berry’s story about two boys, one of whom falls asleep at inopportune moments experiencing vivid dreams. The overall conceit of the novel, however, is that the author, J R Crook, is dead (the novel is dedicated to his memory) and Annelie has put together the novel from excerpts sent to her by Crook in fifteen instalments. Annelie has published these chapters in the order they were sent to her, but has numbered the chapters to show where they fit into the linear narrative so the book starts at chapter five, then moves to chapter one, followed by eleven, nine and two and so on, until the end 108 pages later. Confusing? Yes and no.
Sleeping Patterns is the winner of this year’s Luke Bitmead Bursary (a prize for unpublished authors). This is experimental fiction examining the relationship between a writer and his reader and requires a lot of work from the reader to put together what is in effect a literary puzzle. The story moves around between fiction and ‘reality’ allowing the reader to view the story from many angles, perspectives and time frames culminating in a twist at the end which I didn’t see coming and which made me glad I had read the book. This is an intelligently put together story that expects an equal intelligence from its reader. For this reviewer, however, there wasn’t enough substance to the characters to elicit the emotional response I craved. There are a number of characters and it wasn’t always clear who was speaking or indeed telling the story (although this was in some part intentional and not a failing on the writer’s part) and we don’t learn a great deal about them. As a result I didn’t really care what happened to them. There was also too much untranslated Finnish text which led to frustration on the part of this reader, rather than mystery, which I suspect was the intention.
Any Cop?: Sleeping Patterns is the kind of book that lingers in the mind, revealing itself slowly and would benefit from many readings to appreciate it fully. It is either a work of genius or a triumph of form over substance. If pushed to decide either way I would incline towards the former, but would rather see what Crook offers next before making a firm decision.
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- December 4, 2012 / 7:01 am