I was lucky enough to win a copy of this book in a giveaway hosted by Charlie of The Worm Hole earlier this year. It’s probably not a book I would have chosen for myself but Charlie’s review (and others) made it sound very intriguing.
To begin with, the book is dedicated to the memory of the author, J.R. Crook, who we are told in the introduction (written by his friend, a fictional character called Annelie Strandli) is dead*. Before he died, Annelie says, he sent her fifteen envelopes each containing one piece of an untitled story and she has put them together to form a book. Annelie received these fifteen story fragments out of order and has presented them in that same order in the book so that Chapter 5 appears first, followed by Chapter 1, then 11.
Annelie herself is a main character in the story. A Finnish student living in London, the story tells of her relationship with Berry Walker, an aspiring writer. Annelie, Berry and Jamie (J.R.) Crook all live in the same student accommodation. Intrigued by the mysterious Berry, who is an insomniac, Annelie begins sneaking into his room and reading his writings, which he keeps in his desk drawer. Hoping for some insights into Berry’s character, Annelie becomes absorbed in the story he is writing – the story of Boy One, who has the habit of falling asleep at the most inappropriate times and entering the world of dreams.
There are so many clever ideas to be found in this book and it has such an unusual, innovative structure! I was impressed by its originality, though a bit disappointed that the actual plot wasn’t more compelling. Due to the fragmented nature of the story, possibly reflecting Berry’s disturbed sleeping patterns and Boy One’s dreams, I found it difficult to follow what was really happening (a story-within-a-story-within-a-story doesn’t even begin to describe it!) However, if you see the book as a sort of puzzle or jigsaw to be solved, then it definitely works in that respect.
When presented with chapters numbered incorrectly, the natural reaction is to want to read them in the correct numerical order, starting with Chapter 1. I managed to resist the temptation and just read the book straight through from cover to cover the way it was presented, but I did wonder whether the story would have made more sense if read in the right order or whether that would have just left me more confused. After spending most of the book feeling lost I was pleased to find that things did start to become clearer towards the end! At just over 100 pages, it would have been short enough to read again if I had wanted to and I’m sure a lot of things would have been clarified on a second read.
This book won the Luke Bitmead Bursary for previously unpublished authors and, having now read it, I can see why, because I can honestly say I’ve never read a book quite like Sleeping Patterns before. My personal preference is for more traditional novels – stories with a beginning, middle and end – but I’m always happy to try something a bit different. And this was certainly different!
* Don’t worry – J.R. Crook is not really dead. He even signed my copy of the book!