What is the relationship between the writer and his audience? J.R. Crook’s debut novel investigates this through a group of characters – himself included – living together in student accommodations in London. The main story here centers on an artist Annelie Strandli, known as Grethe to her friends, and a writer Berry Walker. As the book opens, Grethe tells of the death of Crook (fear not, he’s alive and well) and how she received the book – chapter by chapter, and out of order. She also explains why she decided to publish it exactly as she received it. What may be confusing here is that although Crook is a minor character in his own novel, it is Berry who is writing the chapters, and allowing Grethe to find them one at a time (and again, out of order). Yet the overall premise here is that it is Crook who was sending the chapters to Grethe before his death.
But don’t let that confuse you. What we get here is something more akin to a jumbling of 15 journal entries than a straightforward story. However, inside these entries is yet another story – one which tells about “boy one” and how his daydreams as a youth came to shape him as a man. To distinguish the “boy one” story from the rest of the book, these sections have been put in italics. What makes this inclusion even more special is that the “boy one” tale is told completely chronologically. This turns out to be an essential element of the book, holding the mixed-up accounts together like an ever tightening string, and wrapping it all up into a complete package with its conclusion.
In Grethe’s brief introduction to the book, she says: “… it was not until shortly after his death, once the last piece had arrived, that I came to understand what the purpose of his writing had been.” This too is an essential element of the book – and one which could easily be overlooked by the readers. But Crook took this into account, and included it as part of a “boy one” sections to be yet another clue to the essence of his novel. We soon find out that “boy one” is a chronic daydreamer, and the effect that his waking (and sleeping) dreams have on his life become a counterpoint to the sleeplessness of Grethe and Berry. And while these two named characters have no physical relationship, they misunderstand each other just as much as “boy one” learns to understand himself completely.
The title of the book has also been carefully chosen and is perfect for what the readers will find inside. The significance of the title is two-fold. On the one hand – as with the chapters in this book – our sleeping dreams are never straightforward. Things jump around and get jumbled up and confound us regarding their meanings. On the other hand, there’s always something consistent (a pattern, if you will) about our dreams which allows us to know we aren’t awake, and that what we are seeing isn’t reality. This too parallels the two parts of this novel, as well as the accounting of the death of the book’s author, who is actually very much alive.
Just before the book opens, readers will find the dedication page which reads: “Dedicated to the memory of the author”. Through this initially hidden, but obviously intentional double meaning, we can already see that Crook uses language in a most powerful manner. The prose in this book is artfully crafted and grabs the reader’s attention softly but deftly, like a silk glove. The book is relatively short – only around a hundred pages, and is a fairly quick read. But through Crook’s adept use of images and careful descriptions there is a whole lot packed into these 15 pieces. So despite its short length, this isn’t something that the reader can skim through quickly. The only minor thing that bothered me here was that the author insisted in referring to all of the characters by both their first and last names almost consistently throughout the book, and not just the first time they appear. This brought me up short a couple of times but didn’t detract from the overall reading.
In spite of this tiny niggle, and because this book is presented so uniquely and artistically, it would be hard to give this book less than a full five stars out of five. While not everyone will appreciate it, J.R. Crook is an author whose first novel is a piece of true literary fiction which will establish him immediately as outstandingly skillful writer. With Sleeping Patterns, Crook proves he has both the imagination and the bravery to give us something out of the ordinary, and I’m certainly looking forward to his next endeavor.
This review first appeared on Curious Book Fans.