• RJ Smith

Dissident Reviews #5: House of Sleep by Brad Kelly



Plot


There is not much to remark of Lynn, except for the intrigue dreams hold for her. They seem to be the key to something. A therapist in a loving relationship with a man she plans to marry, Lynn’s world is a happy one. All of that changes, however, with an accident that brings her world crashing down and reveals the prescience of her sleep-time ruminations.


Broken and alone, Lynn has to find a way to feel something approaching normal again. She tries “lounging in the sun and meditating in the fresh air with calm and joyful music in the background, yoga and mantras and the words of the enlightened, but the sadness persisted in a bubbling forth and all those unified platitudes made her feel phony.”


Everything appears hopeless. Until Lynn learns of a strange commune run by an eccentric cult-like figure called the Diving Man, who claims to be able to help patients remember their dreams. This, Lynn believes, might be the means through which she can reach the love of her life from beyond the grave. The commune is known as the House of Sleep, a “Victorian mansion made of jade-colored brick.”


Things get complicated at the House of Sleep when Lynn encounters Daniel, who might just be Lynn’s saviour. But everything is mediated through the messianic figure of DM (reminiscent of Wallingford in Matt Pegas’ Dragon Day, which I review here) and his dubious physician, Dr Carl.



Critiques


Kelly ably relates what is at once a love story, a story of loss, and a complex work exploring the boundaries between the real and unreal. He is strongest, in my opinion, in the early part of the book when his narrator recounts the rituals—meaningful and banal—of two young people in love.


Saturday morning they woke interleaved, a glow of the day settled on them, the warmth of their bodies held radiant in the blankets, his half-sleeping pull at her waist and her hips nudging into him—even his morning breath, a humid smell curling like a fairy tale spirit over her shoulder and down her chest.

On the other hand, a lot happens in the first chapter; the pace of the book slows down significantly in the middle part, and I felt certain sections could have been trimmed. And while the author clearly has a strong command of language, his style is florid, and will not appeal to everyone.


Well, lemme see. . .after the Great Semicolon, the nuclear forces and entropy had to work their calculations for a while— rocks had to sort themselves into spheroids just outside the solar flame and, onboard, globs of matter had to work themselves into lives. Enter self-replication—no biggie. And soon enough these lives were talking to each other—chemical morse code at first, and then chirps and grunts, we await what’s next—and fucking each other and eventually banging rocks against bone—a hirsute precedent for the subatoms we’d crashtest under the desert (Note that all our wondrous discoveries are some version of smashing things together or setting them on fire). Some books found themselves written, a little music made, loquacious speeches rustled goosebumps, jelly was injected directly into sweet pastries, light was used to transmit ideas. . .you get the idea.

Kelly's prose was to me a little reminiscent of Jonathan Franzen (with some DeLillo sprinkled in). I have no idea how the old the author is, but the book has a distinctly Gen X feel.


The main issue I had was that I didn’t feel as much of a connection to Lynn as I did to, say, the heroine in Plath’s The Bell Jar. I subscribe to the old write what you know adage, and when a writer’s main character in no way resembles him or herself that distance comes through for me.


All of these are issues of taste. House of Sleep is an imaginative and moody novel. Kelly's book will appeal to anyone interested in the unconscious mind and the meaning of dreams.


House of Sleep is independently published and is available for purchase here.

About Dissident Reviews:


In this series, I plan to review—in a spirit of objectivity and constructive criticism—“dissident” works, by which I mean works establishment publishing houses would overlook for ideological reasons. My motivations for doing so are to:

  • discover works from outside the mainstream, which I consider politicised and uninteresting;

  • network with like-minded writers;

  • promote work I consider good and offer what I hope will be useful critiques for that I think could be better; and

  • promote my own work.


About me:


I am an Australian writer living in France. I am in the process of publishing a three-novel series—the first of which is available here—and have had non-fiction published in Quadrant and Quillette magazines and The Australian newspaper.


Authors are welcome to use quotes from these reviews (with attribution). If you would like me to review your book please get in touch via my Twitter page.


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