UK 2008 cover

Jonathan Coe writes:

“This novel arose from the combination of two separate ideas. One was an idea for a dark comedy, about a man who falls so deeply in love with a gay woman that he is prepared to do anything to win her affection. The other was an idea for a story about a group of patients at a clinic for the treatment of sleep disorders.

For a long time I couldn't see how to bring these two stories together, but I vividly remember the moment at with the solution occurred to me: I was standing outside the British Museum in central London, waiting for a friend to arrive, when I realised that the link between the two ideas should be a building – a house, standing on the edge of a cliff beside the ocean, which in the first of the novel's time-frames would be used as accommodation for a group of students, and in the second as a sleep clinic.

In the light of this, it might seem that The House of Sleep would be an obvious choice of title for the novel from the very beginning. In fact I had several other working titles. The first one was Dreams Wide Awake, after the tune by Phil Miller from the National Health album Of Queues and Cures. Then I thought of using Dreams So Real, which is the title of a beautiful song by Carla Bley, and would have been very appropriate for Sarah and her vivid narcoleptic delusions. Finally I decided to call it Somniloquy, after the poem near the end of the novel. It was my editor at Penguin, Clare Alexander, who very sensibly decided that The House of Sleep was actually the best title. (Though of course it isn't really mine – it's ‘stolen’ from the book by Frank King.)

Another possible title for the novel was Sleepwalking, although I abandoned that when I learned that Julie Myerson was about to publish a book with the same name. As it turned out, this was a good thing, because somnambulism was one of the few sleep disorders I never managed to incorporate into the story. It's strange that this should be the case, because I was prone to sleepwalking myself at the time, and this was the main reason I'd decided to write about sleep disorders in the first place. Shortly before writing the novel I'd gone through a period where I was sleepwalking a lot, culminating in a minor accident when I'd fallen against the sharp edge of a bookcase while walking in my sleep and cut one of my ears open. A doctor friend suggested that I check into a sleep clinic for observation. I decided against it, but his suggestion set me thinking about these curious institutions and the strange things that might take place there. (My sleepwalking stopped a couple of years later, just after the birth of my first daughter.)

The sonnet at the end of the novel has been set to music by Danny Manners, and you can hear his version sung by Louis Philippe on the CD 9th and 13th. Click here to hear the streaming audio.

Chiara Basciano's painting ‘Narcolessia’ is inspired by The House of Sleep. Click here to see it, or visit her website.”

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jonathan coe portrait imageJonathan Coe was born on 19 August 1961 in Lickey, a suburb of south-west Birmingham. His father worked in the motor industry as a research physicist; his mother was a music and PE teacher.
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