Thursday, August 19, 2010

The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe (Penguin Books 1997)


. . . He leaned closer to Terry and confided: 'I'm down to four hours, you know.'

'Four hours?'

'Four hours a night. I've kept it up for the last week.'

'But that can't be good for you, surely. No wonder you look so tired.'

'I don't care. My target's three, and I'm going to get there. It's a struggle for some of us, you know. We don't all have your gifts. That's why I envy you so much. That's why I'm determined to discover your secret.'

Terry took a modest sip from his glass. 'Why despise it, anyway? I don't understand.'

'I'll tell you why: because the sleeper is helpless; powerless. Sleep puts even the strongest people at the mercy of the weakest and most feeble. Can you imagine what it must be like for a woman of Mrs Thatcher's fibre, her moral character, to be obliged to prostrate herself every day in that posture of abject submission? The brain disabled, the muscles inert and flaccid? It must be insupportable.'

'I hadn't thought of it like that before,' said Terry. 'Sleep as the great leveller.'

'Exactly. That's exactly what it is: the great leveller. Like fucking socialism.' The wine, Terry noticed, was starting to make Dr Dudden turn sour, and a burst of guttural laughter from Dr Madison's end of the table was enough to attract a poisonous look in her direction. 'Listen to that loud-mouthed witch,' he muttered. 'Huddled with her female cronies at the other end of the room. Have you not noticed, Terry, how this table tends to divide up on the basis of gender? That's her doing.'

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