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.

Binnie Kirshenbaum – Rabbits for Food

rabbits-for-food
Binnie Kirshenbaum – Rabbits for Food

Things have been getting worse for Bunny, given this name because her parents raised rabbits, and now, New Year’s Eve is approaching. Like every year, Bunny and her husband Albie will take part in the mandatory dinner with people they call their “friends” even though they don’t see them any other evening of the year due to obvious reasons. Albie would be fine to stay at home, but Bunny knows that even though she feels depressed, she needs to play along. But then, the worst case happens: she breaks down and finds herself in a psych ward.

The novel is divided into two parts: before and after, just like people who have a breakdown or have to live through a life-changing event, divide their life. For me personally, the two parts are so different that it is not easy to come to one conclusion in the end. I’d say: thumbs-up for the first half of the novel, but a strong trigger warning for the second.

Even though the protagonist is highly depressed and struggles with the smallest everyday actions, I found the beginning of the book often very funny since the author is a master of irony and a humour that I really liked. There are so many brilliant phrases, it was a great joy to read even though Bunny’s suffering is almost overwhelming. You slowly approach the climax, New Year’s Eve, and you know that something big is going to happen, thus the suspense becomes almost unbearable.

When Bunny is hospitalised, her welcome there still has some funny aspects, but only until the laughter gets stuck in your throat and Bunny’s life becomes utterly horrible. I have read several novels about psycho wards, “One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Girl, interrupted”, which were not easy to support, but admittedly, more than once I was close to just stopping reading because I could hardly stand what the nurses and doctors there do to the patients. I hope that this is not reality – even though I fear that it might come much closer than anybody from the outside world would dream. No, what Bunny has to endure in hospital is not something nice and there is no need to embellish anything, but admittedly who could ever turn to such a place to find help?

Binnie Kirshenbaum surely is a remarkable and highly gifted writer, yet, this novel definitely should be accompanied by a warning.