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the Complete Review
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The House of Sleep

Jonathan Coe

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To purchase The House of Sleep

Title: The House of Sleep
Author: Jonathan Coe
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997
Length: 337 pages
Availability: The House of Sleep - US
The House of Sleep - UK
The House of Sleep - Canada
The House of Sleep - India
La Maison du sommeil - France
Das Haus des Schlafes - Deutschland
La casa del sonno - Italia
La casa del sueño - España

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Our Assessment:

A- : clever, intricate, amusing, poignant

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 24/5/1997 Simon Louvish
Independent on Sunday . 8/6/1997 Catherine Storey
The LA Times A- 1/3/1998 Richard Eder
New Statesman A 27/6/1997 Malcolm Bradbury
The NY Times Book Rev. B 29/3/1998 Suzanne Berne
Salon A 2/4/1998 Charles Taylor
San Francisco Chronicle A+ 26/4/1998 Carey Harrison
The Spectator . 23/5/1997 Anita Brookner
TLS A+ 23/5/1997 Trev Broughton
Wall St. Journal A 6/3/1998 Merle Rubin

  Review Consensus:

  Artful and intricate -- often too much so for its own good -- thoughtful and fun.

  From the Reviews:
  • "All Coe's characters, except the psychiatrist, are distressingly sane in their inability to achieve their desires. But behind this meticulously structured book lurks the potential of a darker, bolder and less tidy narrative." - Simon Louvish, The Independent

  • "The disappointment about this novel is that its clever author is too lofty a puppet-master, moving his emblematic characters about in a way that is often disconcertingly lifelike but never really filled with life. His theme of sleep and dreaming provides such a deep stream of metaphor, serious meditations and corny jokes that it's hard to tell which Coe wants us to adopt." - Catherine Storey, Independent on Sunday

  • "(A)n intricately brainy affair, often disconcerting, sometimes moving, frequently funny and occasionally indecipherable." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "But the emotional texture of the primary story also holds us -- mainly because of an overall delicacy in the writing, a power to invest and invite sympathy with the central characters, a deft gift for changing pace and mood. (...) This is a topically intelligent and speculative novel for an age fascinated by consciousness and cognition. It's also, as a worthy novel should be, a humane pleasure to read." - Malcolm Bradbury, New Statesman

  • "Among The House of Sleep's greatest pleasures are the brilliant, touching resolutions of the smallest tendrils of plot, carefully rooted, watered and brought to final bloom by Coe's patient ingenuity. And Coe is just as surefooted with the larger issues, leaving in the novel's wake a dozen thoroughly exploded political and intellectual fashions." - Carey Harrison, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "This is a case in which the premise -- dysfunction -- is more interesting than its execution, which is almost pedestrian, apart from a glorious seminar in which psychiatrists and business consultants are conjoined, and in which role-playing, complete with funny hats, is presumed to lead on to more efficient patient management. Here the writing becomes imperturbable (.....) This highly distinctive author has chosen a subject which is almost too big for his novel: that is what makes The House of Sleep so unusual. (...) It is all quite splendidly disturbing: a not quite sober, not quite candid examination of a process we are all obliged to undergo nightly" - Anita Brookner, The Spectator

  • "The generic swerves are here once more, as The House of Sleep plunges us from romance to tragedy, from film noir to farce. Nor are these mere oscillations of tone, but huge, insouciant mood swings. The prose, too, is rangy and confident; less archly knowledgeable, less frantic than in the earlier book. Coe's writing is always a balancing act; here it is less tightrope, more trapeze." - Trev Broughton, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Intricately plotted and ingeniously constructed, The House of Sleep is a deft satire of a variety of targets, from monomaniacal researchers to obsessive movie buffs." - Merle Rubin, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Jonathan Coe is up to his old tricks in The House of Sleep. Chapters are alternately set in June, 1996 and (largely) a period in 1983-4, a B-novel, The House of Sleep, figures in Coe's A-novel The House of Sleep, there is a fill of love, loss, and confusion, and a scene or two of obligatory farce. All neatly packaged, and by and large very well written.
       The present day (well, 1996) sections take place at the Dudden Clinic, a center for the study of sleep disorders run by Dr. Gregory Dudden. Present there are also Dr. Cleo Madison, a member of the staff, and Terry Worth, a patient who is a freelance film critic who apparently does not sleep at all.
       Many of the chapters set over a decade earlier take place in and around the same building, Ashdown, a clifftop manor that was a student resident when, among others Terry and Gregory, were at university there. Another former resident, Sarah, is in many ways the focus of the novel: a narcoleptic who has dreams so vivid she mistakes them for reality, her first boyfriend was Gregory (who already then showed some of the mad scientist inclinations he later succumbs to). She then has an affair with a fellow woman classmate, and is the object of unrequited love by Robert, another student.
       It is all very complicated, as Coe jumps back and forth, and the novel is not immediately accessible (though Coe's eminently readable style helps it along). He weaves a tangled web of dream and reality and misunderstanding which slowly (and quite elegantly) unfolds. Some of the surprises are not so surprising (so for example what became of Robert and what he did to finally win Sarah over), but Coe's many hints and clues providing a foundation for the many strand are fascinating (if not always easy) to follow.
       Set pieces like the article that Terry wrote and that ruined the magazine he worked for, or the mysterious movie he seeks (never seen by anyone), or Gregory's insane ambition in his laboratory, are very well done, though they do not always bring that much to the novel. What Coe is best at is the small details -- Sarah as a teacher, a scene at the beach with Sarah and Robert and a child -- which are also neatly tied up in the books resolutions.
       There are a few too many coincidences, a few too many worn literary tricks (a lost letter in a book's pages, for example), and aspects are overdone (the mad doctor), but Coe has written an impressive and thoroughly enjoyable book. It is very funny, very poignant, and very clever. More accessible to an American audience than the very British What a Carve Up! (The Winshaw Legacy), it does require a certain amount of effort, but we recommend it highly.

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The House of Sleep: Reviews: Jonathan Coe: Other books by Jonathan Coe under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Born in 1961, Jonathan Coe attended Cambridge and Warwick universities. He is the author of several novels.

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