July 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm #552jonathanKeymaster
Eleonora_Vasta wrote :
> Actually I think that The House of Sleep, together with Bulgakov’ Master
> and Marguerite, Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude and Saramago’ Gospel
> according to Jesus Christ, is a novel that deeply influenced me. As like
> for the other novels I mentioned, I was mermerised by the structure of the
> novel, not only by the plot.
> And now I have a question. I don’t know if you will answer, because often
> authors don’t like to do exegesis of their own texts, but among my friends
> there is a long "querelle" about the end of The House of Sleep:
> me and two other friends, we think that Sara’s reaction at Robert’s words
> "Sarah, it is me, it is Robert" is terrifying: in few seconds
> the reader – and Robert with him – understands that everything was made in
> vain. Sarah is not interested in having an affair with Roberth. Or maybe no
> more. So, becoming a woman, for Robert, was just an useless sufference.
> There is another "party" who believes, at the opposite, that the
> end of the novel is the beginning of a new history: somehow, they will stay
> Who’s right?
Eleonara – there are two answers to this question. On the one hand, I agree with your "other party", who believes that somehow they will stay together. That was always the intention at the back of my mind, and I wanted to end the novel on a hint of optimism.
The other answer is much more brutal – namely, that characters have no further life once the end of a novel is reached. They are fictional constructs and their existence ceases as soon as the author places her or his final full stop. This is the point which I wanted to make explicitly at the end of Maxwell Sim (and the final chapter of that novel was inspired, in part, by the number of times I have been asked this same question about Robert and Sarah).
Having just returned from Italy I was surprised once again by how many readers told me that The House of Sleep was their favourite among my novels. Anyone want to share their thoughts on this book?July 20, 2010 at 2:51 pm #718paoloMember
Being an Italian myself, I cannot but uphold your impression, Jonathan. For most of my friends, The House of Sleep (it.tr. La casa del sonno) is your most successful novel. It is difficult to explain why. As for me, I’d personally opt for other books: The Rotter’s Club in primis. If I had to venture a hypothesis, my hunch is that the book has the right combination of sentimentality and eeriness. And how would you describe the Italians if not as sentimental and eerie? 😉 On a more serious note, "identity" might be the answer. Am I wrong to say that the novel is haunted by an atmosphere of general identity crisis? In that sense, The House of Sleep may be a generational novel for many italian young adults. But not for me. Having grown up safely in the "brown (lower-case!) decade", The Rotter is MY generational novel. And your hints at your childhood memories is what makes me laugh and cry the most.
Now, I am reading your last novel. I hope to post some comments on the message board in the near future.July 20, 2010 at 7:42 pm #722choccolataMember
The House of Sleep is my favorite … for the way it was written. A narrative original technique … past and present alternate and without any difficulty you follow the plots of the characters…wonderful!!!July 21, 2010 at 7:25 am #724
I agree with choccolata, the inventiveness with which it is written matches the breadth of emotions and variety of human situations it covers. The blurbs say it all really. And the fact that the Time Out one mentions Lodge (like for MS) could be what first drew me to it when I bought it. Jonathan, I have to disagree with what you said about not being visual. I reread it with attention and the places, the light, the atmosphere are described perfectly in just a few strokes. If I were a film-director (which fortunately I am not) I may find it harder to find the music for it.July 21, 2010 at 11:53 am #728orsettaMember
Hello everyone. First of all, thanks for this much awaited thread, really, I couldn’t wait for it! 🙂
Then, about The House of Sleep, of course I can be terribly wrong, but I would say that your ‘two answers’ (ie the paradoxical happy end, which involves not only Robert’s and Sarah’s, but also Terry’s narrative destiny, I would say, and the ‘authorial one’, so to speak) really are connected in the name of what I would define as the power of the romance. That is, in a sense I have always been reading (and trying to interpret) The House of Sleep as a novel where (contrary to Michael’s destiny in What a Carve Up!, where he is involved in a meta-plot which becomes a jail in actually preventing hin from living in real life), if you keep on believing, the dreams that you dream do come true (to paraphrase Cinderella). And this power of believing seems to be the power of the romance which brings you coincidences, encounters, plots. And then, here is where the actual plot of the House of Sleep and the meaning of writing and narrating do match (dream and narrative are strongly connected, besides).
But, as I said, this is just my attempt of interpretation…
But (and most important) thank you very much for all your comments and explanation, as well as for all the debates and intervetions. Checking out this site has already become a very pleasant daily habit. OrsettaJuly 22, 2010 at 5:34 pm #729eleonora-vastaMember
Thanks a lot Jonathan!
Often I thought I have a temper too much melodramatic… Maybe it depends on my first name, inspired by a lot of italian operas that normally ends with duels, murders and of course deaths of the good characters and triumph of the bad ones…
I have many (italian) friends who prefer What a carve up!, more sarcastic and politically involved, but I think that plot and construction, in House of Sleep, are simply perfect. Characters are charming and fascinating, there is a touch of morbide… but not too much to be totally unbelievable. And many of us – maybe everybody – during our lives we knew someone who drove us crazy to such an extent that we conceived some selfdistructive ideas.
Finally it is not only the "coté tragique" to be interesting: this novel has a massive dose of humour! The chapters about the search of the lost film Latrine Duty (but I think the italian translation Sergente Cesso was maybe better… ) are exhilarating.
Of course, also Rotter’s Club and Closed Circle were nice, for me.
But there you stabbed me in the back. I put all my hopes in Benjamin, but in Closed Circle he lives such a stupid life that this began my biggest fear: to loose my life and disappoint myself… so, you see, characters are not simply paper beeings, they are living in spite of you. Some years ago, Luigi Pirandello had the same problem…
Bye!July 29, 2010 at 9:37 pm #730sophieMember
choccolata wrote :
> The House of Sleep is my favorite … for the way it was written. A
> narrative original technique … past and present alternate and without
> any difficulty you follow the plots of the characters…wonderful!!!
I totally agree with you!! Love this book 🙂September 2, 2010 at 9:24 pm #749auntchadsMember
The House of Sleep is my favourite for reasons others have stated. Also it’s very funny in places. But I’ve always wondered about the article with the misnumbered footnotes. Was this written for this book (I think not)? Was it an amusing attempt to re-write the 2 Ronnies Mastermind sketch? I haven’t seen this book in other languages – how on earth was this particular part of the book translated?September 8, 2010 at 2:19 pm #753jonathanKeymaster
Thanks auntchads. You raise an interesting point. The footnotes section in The House of Sleep does sit rather oddly with the rest of the book. However I can assure you that it was written specifically for inclusion in the novel. The Two Ronnies (for overseas readers – a comedy double act, very popular on British TV when I was growing up) were big favourites of mine in the 1970s. Their "Mastermind" sketch was broadcast I think in the early 1980s, when I was at university, so I didn’t catch it at the time, although I must have seen repeats. There is an obvious similarity between what David Renwick was doing when he wrote that sketch, and what I did in the footnotes section, but the influence was unconscious. It was only a few weeks ago, incidentally, that I saw another Ronnies sketch called ‘Crosswords’ on YouTube, and realised that that I must have seen this in the 1970s as well, and that it must have subliminally inspired the scene in The Rotters’ Club where Sam Chase is struggling to do a simple crossword, and at the same time his wife is struggling to understand the love letter she’s been sent. Obviously The Two Ronnies were a much bigger influence on me than I imagined. Maybe there’s a thesis to be written there by some diligent postgrad …October 15, 2010 at 6:16 pm #787toompeaMember
I’ll be trying to explain why The House Of Sleep is to me your highest point. I’ll try starting from the end of my personal story.
yesterday I was having a tea in what I consider the coolest neighborhood in Rome, San Lorenzo, with a beautiful girl. we were talking about movies and how we rate them. we came to a point where we both agreed that the end is what really makes the movie. for some unknown reasons I needed to introduced her The House Of Sleep, even though it’s not a movie but, mind, when I happened to meet Wim Wenders some years ago and talked with him about books and movies I suggested him to read your novel, being sure he’d be the right one to direct it.
that said, I introduced her The House Of Sleep because the last words of the novel really entered in my veins.
reading for the very first time the book it was clear to me I was the witness of my own feeling and approach of life. I was reading something that couldn’t belong only to novels but all the art in general.
It’s the only book I happen to read every now and then and the first I felt I had to leave in some public gardens hoping someone would stumble on it, take it, read it and love it.
to me there is a warm, conforting reason because the book is well rated among quite all of your readers that is: most of us are Sarah, Robert and Terry. we live our life trying to fit it with our dreams. most of us yearn for having a ‘Sarah’ in our life because, yes, we know inside ourself if we had a chance we’d do the same as Robert. "Sarah it’s me, Robert" still gives me shivers because it’s the the objectification of how our weakness can make us brave, not only in our dreams. The House Of Sleep was a chance to believe my dreams are concrete and nothing ever changed since then
all the bestOctober 18, 2010 at 10:12 pm #794gert-vanMember
Very interesting, this Two Ronnies influence on writing that hilarious Sam Chase passage ^^
I think that The House of Sleep would be your best novel if you hadn’t written What a carve up!, which to me is still your biggest work of genius, with an incredible amount of stories and ideas woven into it. But The House of Sleep was very recognizable. Like some previous writers, such as Lawrence and Woolf, you seem to raise the question of gender and how there might not be a binary distinction between both sexes but some sort of continuum, with some women being more masculine than some men, and the other way around. The tyranny of masculinity works both ways, and I think that a lot of young men who are far more emotional than some of their more masculine counterparts, do suffer a great deal in this society. The gap between Robert and his father seems to stem from this idea. How many fathers want their son to be a fine specimen of masculinity. Can you imagine the disappointment? I think that this antipathy that his father must have felt for him, this huge disappointment, must have worked in the same way as it did for Maxwell, who has to witness his life going down the drain because of things his father did ages ago. But in the "end", or rather, before your "postmodernistic" ending, they get closer together again, while the gap between Robert and his father seems insurmountable.
My point is that you raise an important issue here. I might be theorizing it a bit too strongly, but wasn’t this exactly the point Woolf was trying to make in for instance Mrs Dalloway? All the time, while reading the novel, I suspected that Robert might eventually choose to change his sex. I was like: no… he can’t… that’s impossible… and unlikely. And yet you did it and it doesn’t seem unnatural at all when you write it.
One final aspect of this novel I would like to applaud is its criticism of, again, society. The fact that the only psychologist who was able to decide whether this psychopath would be able to live in his flat again, had to go to some stupid and useless event, and that, eventually, the psychopath makes another victim, really moved me, and made me consider that, actually, such terrible mistakes might be made in this society. It’s a grim decision, and a grim ending to Terry’s story (although once again it’s is impossible to decide whether he will ever wake up again), but somehow it might have been for the best, since Terry has never been happier than in his dreams, and now he is able to dream all the time. Very well done. Very moving and very funny novel.
I will de-Coe for some months, because I read to many novels in the past month, and now there are only two novels left, plus the biography of BSJ. And since you can’t write faster than we read, it might be a good idea to safe some Coe for later ^^
All the bestOctober 18, 2010 at 10:20 pm #795gert-vanMember
Oh yes, one more thing about your idea of characters. When I was working on my thesis, doing a lot of character analysis, mainly of Cicely Boyd, I learned a good deal about many different ideas of characters. Some authors and critics consider them only as elements, as necessary aspects of a novel. Others believe that they can even attain some sort of autonomy. The French critic Pierre Bayard goes really far in that idea. Maybe too far. But I like this idea of autonomy. Some readers can really fall in love with characters, or get obsessed by them. Don’t worry, I’m not one of them. But I do experience huge doses of empathy with some of your characters. It’s just the way you write. I myself am working on a novel as well, but I find characterization one of the hardest things to do.
While writing my thesis, I thought that you must be one of the writers who thinks the most highly of characters, and sees them as non-actual persons. I was much surprised when I read the last part of Maxwell Sim, because there you undermined this vision and underlined the fact that characters are just characters. There’s a huge paradox between this ending and the way you tend to characterize your characters: very humanlike, very recognizable. And I like that paradox. It’s one of many paradoxes in your work, and it’s great to discover them.October 19, 2010 at 12:50 pm #797
Very true, Gert. One of the aspects that has always drawn me to Jonathan’s writing since I first read the HoS is the way he treats characters as real people, with all their "fluidity"; one can love them, hate them, recognise oneself in some or some parts of them and accept their possible contradictions… including the fact that they do not really exist in flesh and blood.October 19, 2010 at 3:02 pm #798
PS We should also elect Gert as "Coe’s message board neologist"; so far he has coined the adjective "coean" and the verb "to de-coe"; both very eloquent. 🙂October 19, 2010 at 3:30 pm #799paoloMember
It is strange, but I have always thought that Jonathan’s Forte wasn’t the character development, but the plot building and that the undeniable strong identification with his characters that we all experience was contingent on the plot sophistication (By the way, this seems to me to be the chief Fielding’s influence on Jonathan’s style.) For example, after reading the Rotter’s Club, I remember of being asked which was my favorite character by a friend and to feel that this was NOT the right question to ask. The web of stories, the atmosphere was essential, and the characters had only to play the role they were called on to play by the story itself. The story was deeply impressed on my mind, not the characters. But I am keen to read why you think otherwise.
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