Saturday, 31 December 2016

Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick

Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick
First published in America in 1979.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Windows, 5Books1Theme: Older Women and WorldReads: America, and one of my Top Ten Books of 2016

How I got this book:
Borrowed at an AirBnB

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Sleepless Nights a woman looks back on her life—the parade of people, the shifting background of place—and assembles a scrapbook of memories, reflections, portraits, letters, wishes, and dreams. An inspired fusion of fact and invention, this beautifully realized, hard-bitten, lyrical book is not only Elizabeth Hardwick’s finest fiction but one of the outstanding contributions to American literature of the last fifty years.

Elizabeth Hardwick was a new-to-me author when I spotted this novella, Sleepless Nights, in with other borrowable books at our Tarragona Airbnb apartment. Inappropriate titling aside(!), I chose it mainly because its brevity would allow me to easily finish reading during a busy long weekend and I was not prepared at all for just how superb the writing would be. I don't often quote from books I read, but to give you an idea, here is a sentence that grabbed my attention early on:
"I was then a 'we', that tea bag of a word steeped in the conditional".

Sleepless Nights is essentially a fictional memoir, written in a nonfiction style, which results in an unusual book for its time. I understand from reading up about Hardwick and her work since finishing, that it was considered experimental when published although this approach is now far more widely used. Our narrator, also named Elizabeth, is an older woman looking back over her life, recalling people and places that once meant a lot to her. Sometimes we read Elizabeth's thoughts as though she is speaking directly to us. Sometimes we read old letters she wrote. Combined, the effect is to give an immensely powerful read. I would recommend Sleepless Nights to anyone who enjoys literary fiction purely for Hardwick's gorgeous turns of phrase, but also because she creates such an fascinating persona in Elizabeth.

Etsy Find!
by Word Crafty in
Brampton, Canada

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Elizabeth Hardwick / Contemporary fiction / Books from America


  1. I might even read this book purely based on the little quote you gave to us. As someone who writes myself, I fall in love with books based on a unique or especially good writing style alone. This book sounds like the kind that possesses that ;D

    1. Definitely true! I'm not sure why Sleepless Nights isn't a well-known classic.