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Sleepless Nights

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  842 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
InSleepless Nightsa 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 contribut ...more
ebook, 144 pages
Published July 13th 2011 by NYRB Classics (first published 1979)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 02, 2015 s.penkevich rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who has not read it
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Garima and Aubrey
Novelists tell that piece of truth hidden at the bottom of every lie.
-Italo Calvino in an interview with The Paris Review

Memory is a sly kitten, darting to and fro through the living room of our mind, appearing in flashes here then there, never in an orderly fashion and rarely giving us a perfect still-frame to assess all the details. Elizabeth Hardwick’s astounding ‘novel’—or should modern times brand it with the now-popular ‘creative non-fiction’ label—Sleepless Nights is a brilliant blending
I heard the sounds of sorrow and delight,
The manifold, soft chimes,
That fill the haunted chambers of the Night,
Like some old poet’s rhymes.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Hymn to the Night

A book written in the form of life. So concluded Geoffrey O'Brien in the brilliant introduction to this distinguishing literary feat. To narrow down that observation a bit, I’ll say that this is a book written in the form of ‘Sleepless Nights’. You know the kind of nights that opens up the reluctantly closed do
This is the sort of book that I would like to write one day. While I do enjoy works of great length, this is due more to my own mulling processes than any real dislike of shorter pieces. I prefer to read, ponder, read, ponder some more, allowing subconscious faculties to leisurely sample the intake over the course of days; when the book has finally ended and the review awaits, much of the thoughts are there to meet them. What I remember of the days before, I use; what I don't was fit to be filte ...more
Aug 17, 2014 Brian added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: Proustitute

Sleepless Nights is the literary equivalent of a Gryphon: it has the head of a memoir, the body of a novel and the tail of an epistle. The constructs of what constitutes a novel do not apply. Trying to explain Hardwick's style, her talent, is like trying to answer the question "How long is a piece of string?" For example, here are two sentences taken from the last page of the novel:

Mother, the reading glasses and the assignation near the clammy faces, so gray, of the intense church ladies. And t
So this is some breathtakingly good writing. Distilled, focused and filled with some of the most unexpectedly perfect analogies/metaphors/similes I have read.

Aubrey, Brian and Garima have written wonderful reviews already, and there is much out there in the WWW to give you more details about this slim little novel. However, I find the best way to decide whether or not I want to read someone is to have a sampler, a taster.

So, with that in mind...

Read. Listen.

"Photographs of marriage. records
The torment of personal relations. Nothing new there except in the disguise, and in the escape on the wings of adjectives

One of the consolations that literature provides is a sense of belonging, for those who may lack it in the real world. I've been able to reason to myself that my eccentricities are not really odd, but it is truly gratifying to find them in others. To feel social and affable toward others, even if they are dead.

This sense of belonging is the kind of relationship, when carefu
Dec 05, 2013 Mikki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb, novellas
If this book were a work of art on canvas, it would be a collage by Romare Bearden -- its subjects layered in thick coats of paint, scraps of newspaper, bits of textured fabric, and torn photographs (particularly of eyes and ears). Or maybe it would be a quilt.

Here is a book unlike any that I've ever read before. No real story with plot, no timeline. It's more like reading random pages torn from a journal or sitting at a kitchen table flipping through pages of a friend's scrapbook in no particu
Four stars tells you it’s good. Let’s move on.

I start with an image, perhaps of a chair, and slowly enlarge it in your mind, pulling one by one, word by word, its features out of my hat, a green cloth seat and wooden legs and arms. Something happened in this chair, but that something has become so much a basic fact of my life that its repeating here will do no good or bad. I shall pass over it completely.

What I may provide you, however, is a fiction. My name is still Daniel L (or Elizabeth Hardw
Joan Didion doesn't lack attention, neither does Sontag. MFK Fisher is making a comeback in the context of both memoir and food writing. Annie Dillard has had a steady sort of recognition. So what happened to Hardwick and why have so few read her brilliant hard essays, her insightful bio of Melville, and above all, this hybrid memoir/novel/lyrical essays collection? Perhaps because Hardwick's life overshadowed her work (that is, her role as troubled wife to troubled poet overshadowed both her li ...more
Jun 29, 2009 Jimmy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb, female, novel, year-1970s
A serious, melancholy book about memories, of people and places passing through the night. Sad lives. Excellent language, at times a little on the cerebral side, sounding almost like a series of prose poems, or personal essays.
This book is n% fiction and (100-n)% straight-up memoir, where the exact value of n is trickily concealed. No matter. "Sleepless Nights" is a highly readable potpourri, deliciously aimless, like a pink-purple zinnia whose multitude of petals ray out in every direction at once: well, every direction except straight down toward the earth (that's where the stem is) or straight up at the sun (that's where the anthers go, bristling and manly). The book's idiosyncratic structure, its insistence on for ...more
Feb 27, 2014 Troy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2014
There are parts of this book that are stunningly beautiful. And vignettes that stick with me days after I've read them. A story about a friend, the daughter of servants, who grew up with the rich, corrupted by hate and resentment. The mysterious and inscrutable Billy Holliday and the authors time with her in her hotel. A tiny Dutch doctor and his doomed, bourgeoisie, and complacent love affairs. A laundry lady, large and unrepentant and hooked up with a devious lecher.

But as amazing as aspects
Nov 02, 2013 Ali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this little novel in a charity shop while on holiday, I hadn’t heard of it – although I seem to remember reading Elizabeth Hardwick’s novel The Ghostly Lover many years ago (which I’m pretty sure was not as Mills and Boons as it might sound). It has turned out to be a rather delicious little find. There are books where nothing much happens – and somehow it is still immensely satisfying – in this book not only does nothing much happen – there is no plot at all, and yet from the moment I s ...more
Elli (The Bibliophile)
Sep 16, 2015 Elli (The Bibliophile) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
This is a book that blurs the lines between memoir and novel. Like the author, the narrator is named Elizabeth and certain circumstances discussed in the book seem to mirror the author's own life experiences.

The book seems to be a collection of memories- of places, events, and, especially, of other people. There is prose, but also inserted quotes and letters describing key events. It is hard to pin down what this short novel is about exactly. While it may seem unfocused, somehow this style work
Maga Etchebarne
Dec 17, 2015 Maga Etchebarne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cuenta como quiere, el pasado, la mujeres que la rodearon, algunos hombres, un amante en particular del que se acuerda cosas sueltas que le decía en la cama, y un hotel lleno de artistas, Billie Holiday sola en un cuarto rodeada de perros:

"Qué aparición más traicionera, aquella, aquella locura, porque nunca hubo mujer menos madre y menos esposa, menos apegada a nada; costaba imaginar, incluso, que pudiera ser hija. Ya quedaba poco que recordara la lastimosa dulzura de una jovencita. No. Era rut
Dec 05, 2014 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What this novel lacks in a conclusion. It has a beginning, a middle and an end but since the book is not structured chronologically these are fairly meaningless terms. By ‘conclusion’ I, of course, mean a summation. It doesn’t matter what order the sum comes in the answer will always be the same: 1+3+2 will equal the same as 2+1+3. And so, at the end of her dips into her life what has the author concluded? Of this, I am not sure. I’ve often said that a book doesn’t need a plot but it should have ...more
Feb 26, 2014 Alicia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I re-read this book today.
It was raining & soggy outside & I just love this book.
I especially love how she quotes different writers & not just the usual suspects.
I remember how as a teen, a teacher gave us tons of books, & one of the collections was the "Diaries of Casanova"~ & then this quote
from page 56
" The great exhilaration to my spirits, greater than all my own pleasure, was the joy of giving pleasure to a woman."
My bookmark is the her obituary from my December 17th,
Aug 07, 2011 Lobstergirl rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb, fiction
This type of writing is so not my taste. It's not just the wandering, collageyness of it, but also the word choices: leave-taking, for example. In 1977, what does it say about a writer who needs to use the word leave-taking? To me it screeches affectation, as does the structure of the "novel" generally (it's a mix of fact and fiction, told from the viewpoint of a woman named Elizabeth who grew up in Kentucky, as Hardwick did, and lived many years in New York). Susan Sontag calls it "a novel of m ...more
Patrick Gaughan
Feb 13, 2015 Patrick Gaughan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sleepless Nights is a collage of other people's stories, every chapter a new name who slowly falls apart. The sleepless nights of the title are had by Hardwick's characters, or more accurately, the people with whom she crossed paths, who pass through her. Every chapter is enough fodder for a novel unto itself. Hardwick doesn't prize a single narrative, but a lifetime's worth of taking in and observing other people's stories, other people's love affairs, and she showcases an impeccable eye for de ...more
This book is undeniably beautifully written. It bears the hallmarks of a writer whose life was lived entirely in writing and literature. However, it would not be quite true to say I enjoyed it.
The structure of this novel is extremely unusual. The central narrator is merely the lens through which we encounter a mostly pitiful succession of human characters, all their particularities, foibles, pains and heartaches seen by the author/narrator with relentlessly merciless eyes. Most of the stories re
Aug 31, 2009 Kallie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: poets who also write prose
Shelves: memoir
The description of Billy Holiday is worth the read, but everything in Hardwick's life during this era is seen with a clear yet appreciative eye.
May 03, 2016 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At its best the book examines the myriad disappointed, disaffected, malcontent New Yorkers Hardwick has rubbed shoulders with in her time there. From the criminally underappreciated Billie Holiday to a woman, Judith, who weathers the resentment of her mentally ill son and the married psychiatrists who operate as his caretakers. The strongest and most poignant elements of this book are found in the author’s descriptions of the New York (and New York itself “This is New York, with its graves next ...more
Dec 04, 2013 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
a new all-time favorite. if you like james salter's prose stylings, you'll appreciate hardwick's. don't know why this isn't mentioned as a great new york book. beautifully written characterizations/archetypes.

"The torment of personal relations. Nothing new there except in disguise, and in the escape on the wings of adjectives. Sweet to be pierced by daggers at the end of paragraphs.

"Sometimes I resent the glossary, the concordance of truth, many have about my real life, have like an extra pair
Aman Mittal
Sep 17, 2014 Aman Mittal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Books like SLeepless Nights are not ordinary. They are written once in a blue moon, and meant to read for once in a blue moon.

It's part fiction and part autobiography, memories of an aging women in a nursing home told through story, letters, quotes, literary passages and dreams of missed opportunities written by Elizabeth Hardwick sharing the first name with the protagonist.

There are parts of this book that are stunningly beautiful. The type of writing is more of wandering, something you don't
Jan 09, 2008 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Much has been made of the success of this book as a genre-bender (highly autobiographical, yet a novel, yet essay-like), but what interested me most, and drove me to finish it in one night, was Hardwick's sharp observations of her characters and the running theme of the upheavals love makes on a life, and the quietness you're left in afterward. The writing bothered me a little at first, since it tended toward the abstract, and because the story is described as that of a woman looking back on her ...more
Oct 01, 2009 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Karen by: Seattle Public Library Staff Picks
The perfect book. All my pages are dogeared and double-dogeared with quotes that could come right out of my own journal, but better put. A long letter to a boy devolved into quotes from this book-- then I was certain he'd be bored, and gave it up. I like her. I like this book. I want to be her. I want my life to be this book. Magnificent. Usually I can't stand no plot. I couldn't make it through The Waves. It turns out I just need a stream-of-consciousness that I can relate too. Only a 4 out of ...more
Gabriel Valjan
Susan Sontag’s blurb on the back of the book summarizes Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights: “mental weather.” Geoffrey O’Brien’s Introduction should have been an Afterword so as not to influence the reader create or set any expectations. He strains to make the case of just read and enjoy Hardwick’s prose. Her writing is spare, evocative and possesses a distinct voice. Hardwick is intelligent, observant, educated and explicitly from another era. She might’ve been born in 1916, but there is a s ...more
Feb 16, 2016 Stephanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-americas
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'
Nov 05, 2014 Denali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When you are a young woman who likes reading and writing it's inevitable that a cool friend passes along some Joan Didion and you sit and read it and maybe for a while try to observe and write like her in the horrifying way that your male counterparts secretly believe they can write like Jack Kerouac.

But no one, in my experience, has said "Here's Elizabeth Hardwick" and I want to know why.

Hardwick's essays, particularly her writing about New York are very heavily engaged with the particular ti
Mar 31, 2014 Taube rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After a steady and mostly empty diet of books written by foppish and unreliable narrators-- books filled with voluptuously distorted or highly perjured memories--to finally light upon the brilliance of Elizabeth Hardwick's "Sleepless Nights." To feel, in an odd, Braille-like way, that there is much truth in this cagey, autobiographical novel. The one-time wife of the poet Robert Lowell, Elizabeth manages, in a very punctilious and poetic way, to get the words just "right." Perhaps part of this ...more
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Elizabeth Hardwick was an American literary critic, novelist, and short story writer.

Hardwick graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1939. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1947. She was the author of three novels: The Ghostly Lover (1945), The Simple Truth (1955), and Sleepless Nights (1979). A collection of her short fiction, The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick, will be pub
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“While you are living, part of you has slipped away to the cemetery.” 7 likes
“All of her news was bad and so her talk was punctuated with "of course" and "naturally.” 7 likes
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