Sleepless : A Memoir of Insomnia - Marie Darrieussecq


A Memoir of Insomnia

By: Marie Darrieussecq, Penny Hueston (Translator)

eBook | 1 August 2023

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I lost sleep. I retraced my steps but sleep wasn't following me. It had broken free and I was wandering through the night without it.
The world is divided into those who can sleep and those who can't.

What is it like to live with chronic insomnia? For Marie Darrieussecq, not sleeping began after the birth of her first child and continues more than twenty years later. She wonders if it is connected to her hypervigilance, to her fear of her children dying. Once they leave home, will she finally be able to sleep again?

Or, she wonders, will writing this book help her to sleep again?

In Sleepless, she recounts her own experiences alongside those of fellow insomniacs, mostly writers—'as if writing were not sleeping'—Ovid, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Marguerite Duras, Franz Kafka, Georges Perec and others (some of whom claim a connection between insomnia and creativity). With her inimitable humour, she describes her dealings with a somnologist and her attempts to find a remedy—she tries all manner of sleeping pills, cannabis, alcohol, bedtime rituals, acupuncture, yoga, hypnosis, psychoanalysis, a gravity blanket and a range of sleep-aid devices.

Darrieussecq considers bedrooms, beds, clinophilia ('the tendency to remain in a prone position without sleeping for prolonged periods of time'), her need to be alone in bed, those without beds, the homeless, refugees, trauma and capitalism's role in sleeplessness, our constant wakefulness online, the forest as a hypnogogic zone, and how our relationship with animals is connected to our sleep, or lack of it.

Sleep or no sleep: it matters to all of us. Sleepless will awaken you to the otherness of our world, to erased presences, ghosts, endangered species. Insomnia feeds off this bewildering feeling: there is something else.

Marie Darrieussecq was born in Bayonne in 1969 and is recognised as one of the leading voices of contemporary French literature. Her first novel, Pig Tales, was translated into thirty-five languages. She has written more than twenty books. Text has published Tom Is Dead, All the Way, Men, Being Here: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Our Life in the Forest, The Baby, Crossed Lines and Sleepless. In 2013 Marie Darrieussecq was awarded the Prix Medicis and the Prix des Prix for her novel Men She has written art criticism and journalism for a number of publications, including Liberation and Charlie Hebdo, is a translator from English and has practised as a psychoanalyst. Sleepless is her third non-fiction title published by Text. Marie lives in Paris.

Penny Hueston's translations from French include novels by Patrick Modiano (Little Jewel), Emmanuelle Pagano (One Day I'll Tell You Everything), Sarah Cohen-Scali (Max) and Raphaël Jerusalmy (Evacuation). She has translated seven books by Marie Darrieussecq and has been shortlisted for the JQ-Wingate Prize, the Scott Moncrief Prize, and twice for the New South Wales Premier's Translation Prize. She was the winner of the 2020 Medal for Excellence in Translation.

'Amid the torrent of publications in the new sleep science, this is the only book I know that concedes to sleep its proper majesty and its own dark poetry.' J. M. Coetzee

'Sleepless is a feast. Darrieussecq brings a world of personal experience to an examination of insomnia from every possible perspective, from the bodily to the cultural. Her range of reference is extraordinary. The result is intoxicating.' Michael McGirr, author of Snooze: The Lost Art of Sleep

'A funny, moving, metaphysical and novelistic self-portrait that is also a portrait of our times.' Elle


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