Gabrielle Levy – The Insomniac Society

Gabrielle Levy – The Insomniac Society

What a wonderful idea, not to sleep anymore. Yet, if it happens too often or you spend too much time lying awake in bed, it becomes insomnia and can even be pretty frightening. Thus, Claire, Jacques, Michèle, Lena and Hervé become a therapeutical insomniac group lead by specialist Hélène to find sleep again. It is due to quite diverse reasons that the five of them spend their nights roaming. Hervé is stressed out by his job, Lena misses her father, a former baker who always got up very early in the morning, Michèle is haunted by the children she lost and Jacques by a fatal mistakes that happened months ago. Claire is just fed up with her whole life, her job, her relationship, her living in small village outside Paris. The five strangers quickly become a small but fond community not only united by their inability to sleep.

Even though all of the characters are at a critical point in their life where they are confronted with making tremendous and far-reaching decisions and where they have to confront inconvenient truths of themselves and their lives, Gabrielle Levy’s novel nevertheless has to offer some feel-good factor. I adored the five patients from the start, they are drawn with so much care and love that you simply cannot not like them. They are ordinary people, people you can meet anywhere, at work, in the stairwell, on the street, but they immediately develop a bond due the fact they form a brotherhood in suffering.

Beautifully written, I simply floated through the novel enjoying sharing some time with the small group who meet as strangers and whom you leave as friends. The author wonderfully captured those small moments, hazardous encounters that can make a difference in life.

Laura van den Berg – The Third Hotel

laura-van-den-berg-the-third-hotel
Laura van den Berg – The Third Hotel

Clara travels to Havana, Cuba, to attend a film festival. She is there on professional terms she tells the people, but actually, she works as a sales representative for ThyssenKrupp. She watches a horror movie, Revolución Zombi, due to its renowned director and she is looking for Richard – her lately deceased husband who was actually working on film. During her endless search, memories come up, the last days together with Richard before he was killed in an accident, their wedding day, her childhood when her parents owned a hotel in Florida that she roamed like a ghost.

Just as Clare wanders the streets of Havana, so do her thoughts and the reader accompanies her in her search which will lead to nothing – quite the contrary, the longer she roams, the more she herself seems to get lost. At times, she is self-conscious, understands exactly what is going on, that her mind is in exceptional circumstances due to the loss she has just experienced, but then again, she is talking to Richard as if he stood right next to her.

“The Third Hotel” – the name Clara gives her accommodation in Havana since twice before the taxi driver had taken her to the wrong one – is a psychological study in what can happen to a person whose life is turned upside down. Even the simplest things become obstacles hard to overcome:

“What was she doing in Havana? A simple question and yet she could not find a simple answer.”

Clare experiences as she calls it a “dislocation from reality”. There are phone calls when the phone never rings, there are people at the other end of the line that could be herself – she is lost in a parallel world that collides with other peoples’ reality but then again, there are walls that clearly separate those two spaces. Towards the end, a short dialogue perfectly sums up how Clare feels:

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, Clare said, with bitterness.

What doesn’t kill you leaves you alive, Richard countered. (…)

What doesn’t kill you only leaves you feeling broken and insane.”

She is not herself anymore, just like her father who also suffered metal degeneration, she at times cannot differentiate between what’s real and what’s imagined anymore.

The strongest parts of the novel are the descriptions, Laura van den Berg has an eye for the detail and particularly for the sensory aspects. Her protagonist might be gone mad, but her feelings are real. Apart from this, I liked the travel metaphors a lot. The characters are constantly moving in the novel, everybody is travelling, alone in a group, going here and there, on trains, buses, airplanes – yet, does anybody every arrive? Figuratively, aren’t we all relentlessly roaming and searching for our self, not knowing if we ever arrive?