Villainous and unforgiving, insomnia is the enemy of energy and focus, the thief of our repose. But can insomnia be an ally, too, a validator of the present moment, of edginess and creativity? Marina Benjamin takes on her personal experience of the condition—her struggles with it, her insomniac highs, and her dawning awareness that states of sleeplessness grant us valuable insights into the workings of our unconscious minds. Although insomnia is rarely entirely welcome, Benjamin treats it less as an affliction than as an encounter that she engages with and plumbs. She adds new dimensions to both our understanding of sleep (and going without it) and of night, and how we perceive darkness.
Along the way, Insomnia trips through illuminating material from literature, art, philosophy, psychology, pop culture, and more. Benjamin pays particular attention to the relationship between women and sleep—Penelope up all night, unraveling her day’s weaving for Odysseus; the Pre-Raphaelite artists’ depictions of deeply sleeping women; and the worries that keep contemporary females awake. Insomnia is an intense, lyrical, witty, and humane exploration of a state we too often consider only superficially. “This is the song of insomnia, and I shall sing it,” Marina Benjamin declares.
‘A sublime view of the treasures and torments to be found in wakefulness. Entertaining and existential, the brightest star in this erudite, nocturnal reverie in search of lost sleep, is the beauty of the writing itself.’
(Deborah Levy, author of Hot Milk)
‘Benjamin writes beautifully. This is a graceful rumination on the ‘wicked kind of trespass’ that is insomnia, a work cogent and allusive as a lucid dream, a palimpsest of insights to dip into, day or night.’
(Anna Funder, author of Stasiland)
‘Every insomniac knows how sleeplessness warps and deforms reality. Marina Benjamin anatomises its endless nights and red-eyed mornings, finding a sublime language for this strange state of lack. Her writing is often reminiscent of Anne Carson: beautiful, jagged and precise.’
(Olivia Laing, author of The Lonely City)
‘An exquisite meditation on time, the dark hours, and the complexities of longtime love, Insomnia is a poetic journey into the wide-awake, generous, exciting mind of Marina Benjamin. I couldn’t put it down, and my own inner world is richer for it.’
(Dani Shapiro, author of Hourglass)
‘Marina Benjamin is the Sheherazade of sleeplessness, spinning tale upon tale, insight upon insight, in frayed and astonishing and finally ecstatic loops.’
(Francis Spufford, author of Golden Pond)
`Insomnia reads with the surreal and suspended cadence of those lonely hours in the night that only the sleep-less experience. It is, therefore, a kind and intimate companion to our meandering, agitated, non-knowing, spiritually naked thoughts at such hours. Keep it by your bedside lamp!’
(Sarah Wilson, author of First, We Make the Beast Beautiful)