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Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick
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Sleepless Nights (1979)

by Elizabeth Hardwick

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5901625,762 (3.56)61
The narrator of Sleepless Nights is a woman piecing together her life from scraps. Those scraps include tent meetings in Kentucky, a seedy hotel in New York in the 1940s, a nightclub where Billy Holliday sings. There are newly divorced women taking each other's emotional temperature and several seductive men - especially a Dutch doctor who conducts his adulteries with domestic coziness. Above all, there is Hardwick's own unmistakable sensibility, one that delights in startling juxtapositions and the music of the American language.… (more)

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» See also 61 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
What a nugget of a book. A slender novella/with some semi-autobiographical elements, the narrator, who shares the name of the author, Elizabeth, is traversing her memories, talking out loud to herself and in letters, about the people who have peopled her life. Shifting across the years, making random or no links, this plotless character driven gem has some fine lines. It's tone is mostly brittle and cool, with some warmth here and there. The eye for detail is very sharp. Early on I almost felt what it was like to BE Billie Holiday..

This essay is what sent me there:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/29/eimear-mcbride-elizabeth-hardwick-... ( )
  Caroline_McElwee | Jul 4, 2019 |
In this semi auto-biographical memoir, Hardwick recounts the varied people she met in her life, largely in New York. In the main, she talks in a passive voice, as if some anthropologist discovering the hidden, strange, vivid characters around her. But this isn't entirely true. Many of her interactions are with men, where she appears more like prey than an equal, and woman-as-victim is a running them in this book, as if this is simply how things are. What's clear by the end, though, is that, despite the passive voice, she is deeply touched, often wounded, by the many relationships she has, but tries hard to suppress these feelings.

There are metafictional touches here, where she makes it clear she's generating a semi-fictional world out of reality. There are also some incredibly detailed characters here, especially Billie Holiday, which is the highlight of the book. The lack of apparent structure, the flitting between one topic and another is a reflection of the writer's meandering mind, but also a reflection of the energetic chaos of the city where the book is largely based.

This is clearly a literary work, for people who are very well read - many of the allusions were lost on me, which I found a touch frustrating. Nevertheless, there's no denying the poetic style and her ability to capture a mood and people from her life in ways that seem to belie the suggestion that this is some fictional recreation. ( )
  RachDan | May 13, 2018 |
It's been a while since I read this (I'm finally finishing up my import from Goodreads that I started ages ago). Not much stuck with me, but I remember it as uneven—parts were brilliant and others self-indulgently writerly. Maybe I'll revisit at some point, because there's always the chance I wasn't quite ready for it at the time. ( )
  lisapeet | Apr 28, 2018 |
“While you are living, part of you has slipped away to the cemetary.” ( )
  triscuit | Feb 3, 2018 |
Maybe I’m just old school, but when I think of what a novel should be there is a standard list of things I look for: a narrative based on fictional events, a well-defined plot with action and resolution, fully conceived characters, identifiable central themes, etc. However, when I also think about some of the best and most imaginative books I’ve read over the years—like Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler or David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas—I realize that many were missing at least some of those elements. And so it is with Sleepless Nights, Elizabeth Hardwick’s ostensibly autobiographical tale that seems to be a cross between a post-modern fictional account, a personal history and memoir, and a pastiche of prose poetry.

An elderly woman named Elizabeth (not coincidentally the author’s name) living in a nursing home looks back at the events and relationships that shaped her life (many of which are, not coincidentally, similar to events in the author’s life) in a decidedly haphazard and non-linear way. She was once married, although memories of her husband are surprisingly few in number among the detailed, if fragmentary, sketches she offers of the people from her past. Instead, we learn of her interactions with a diverse group that includes her parents, platonic friends, occasional lovers, housemaids, spinster neighbors, and even the singer Billie Holiday.

The reader quickly realizes that, regardless of how it is labeled, Sleepless Nights is not a book defined by its plot. Rather, it is all about the tapestry of beautiful words and images that Hardwick uses while constructing a compelling portrait of a thoughtful person who has engaged fully with life. By the end of this slim but densely packed volume, we have gained considerable insight into the main character—who the author claimed in a separate interview to be less about herself than we might think—while also realizing that there is so much of her past that she has not shared. This book helped me to rethink the limits of what good fiction can be and I am certainly glad for that experience. ( )
1 vote browner56 | Sep 10, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Hardwickprimary authorall editionscalculated
Broek, C.A.G. van denTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my daughter Harriet,
and
to my friend, Mary McCarthy
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It is June. This is what I have decided to do with my life just now.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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'I have always, all of my life, been looking for help from a man.  It has come many times and many more it has not.  This began early.'
This subtle and beautiful love, published in 1979, was hailed as a literary masterpiece.  The subject of this fictional autobiography is memory - the author's memory - vividly recalling the events, the places, the people of her lifetime.  Crossing and re-crossing the odd line between fiction and fact, this novel of one life yields a terrible truth about many: the freedom to live untied to others, however desired that freedom may be, is hard on men and hard on children and hardest of all on women.
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