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Sleepless Nights

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  520 ratings  ·  88 reviews
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 contrib...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published August 31st 2001 by NYRB Classics (first published 1979)
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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...more
Aug 17, 2014 Brian added it
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
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
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
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...more
Sep 06, 2014 Daniel rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: nyrb
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...more
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
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
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.
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
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
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...more
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,...more
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...more
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 4 of 5 stars
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
Aman Mittal
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...more
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
Adam Dalva
The missing link between Sebald and the Cheever diaries - beautifully observed vignettes (some of the descriptions are extraordinary) that ebb and flow into something of a memoirish novel, complete with subplots. I would add in David Markson as well. Hardwick is very well-read, and the book brims with quotes and readerly observations. Some sections are weaker than others and I ran out of steam a bit toward the end, but there is too much strength here (especially in Part 5 with Alex) to ignore. D...more
I'm not sure how to describe this book. Though it's classified as a novel, I don't really see it as such. It has no plot that I can see. It is largely autobiographical, but is not linear. You don't even have to read the chapters in order, or even the entire book at once. You can simply choose one chapter, such as Chapter 3, with its wonderful portrayal of Billie Holliday, or the sly description of Hardwick's real-life husband, Robert Lowell, who is never named, but you just *know* that's him in...more
Cymru Roberts
Sleepless Nights is an ironic title cuz this bad boy had me dozing off after the first few pages.

I read a couple passages to my wife and she said it sounded like the diary of an insomniac. That's a really good description. Each paragraph is a new story, or "gist" as they are referred to in the introduction. Within these splices are multiple subjects that fracture and splinter away into literary impressionism.

She should have taken the top 50 ideas, titled them independently and released them as...more
Patricia Murphy
I get frustrated reading reviews that say "what is the sum of the parts" of this book. Shall we ask every author to spend an extra year at a desk, fashioning an overwrought beginning, middle, and end to their book so that the reader has the road map they require? I don't want a memoir to be a five paragraph essay. I want it to surprise me. I want to draw some of my own conclusions. And that's what I get to do here. And holy bejeesus the sentences! So many beautiful and thoughtful ones I might ne...more
Ok, this book was weird, I am not gonna lie. But, I can truly tell that it is the great literary piece that all the reviewers said. It is just strange because there is no plot; it is pretty abstract yet anchored with such details of humanity, it doesn't really flow and you can't make sense of it as a whole. However, the language is beautiful, sparse and complex at the same time with wonderful descriptions. So many "rules" of writing are thrown out the window with Hardwick's style, but she still...more
Hardwick writes beautifully, but there is something so cynical in her personality that I often felt saddened by this book. It is probably wrong for me to want her semi-autobiography/genre-busting literary kaleidoscope to feature someone I must like, but that is just how I felt. Some gorgeous insight though. Great totally true New Yorkisms.
An original hybrid (like rockabilly). Not precious, but highbrow in the way that any meditation is a luxury. In its scrapbooking it is a dreamy precursor to Brenda Coultas' The Marvelous Bones of Times.

From the book:

This is what I heard in the evening. At the party everyone was intelligent and agreeable, but not particularly good-looking. No person of talent had brought along a beautiful, young girl, who being new and not knowing all the names would seem rude and superior, thus sending arrows o...more
While I enjoy this type of semi-autobiographical literature very much, it's difficult to spit out what effect it had on me. Given the fragmented structure of the narrative, Hardwick's ruminations were absorbed into the late night spinning of my own memories rather than observed from the outside as hers. She captured the tendency we have to look back at where we've been, the urgency to keep searching for meaning in what we couldn't make sense of, and the loneliness of of middle age.

Billie Hollida...more
Annie Garvey
Because I knew a bit about Elizabeth Hardwick, I was interested in reading a fictionalized story of her life. I think it would have been better if I had read this book in complete ignorance of who she was. Since Hardwick was married to Robert Lowell, I kept looking for him. I believe he is "M." The girl who lived in her house for awhile, but was a stranger is Lady Caroline Blackwell who Lowell married after leaving Hardwick. The only things I discovered reading this book is that Hardwick is from...more
"It certainly hasn't the drama of: I saw the old, white-bearded frigate master on the dock and signed up for the journey. But after all, 'I' am a woman."

Dedicated to Mary McCarthy, this also eventually led me to Susan Sontag's essay, "Where the Stress Falls" & Joan Didion's 1979 book review, SO. You cannot destroy a ruin.

Lauren Gullion
Just finished it, and just started re-reading it. That's the kind of book this is - for better or worse. "When you travel your first discovery is that you do not exist." That's the kind of silver bullet that tings you right in the chest as you read this slender memoir-or-is-it-a-novel-via-lyrical-essay. I think it can drive one a bit crazy, the way it lacks a, well, plot. But if you're in the mood for a lovely meander of the mind--again, with zingers like the one quoted above--it's a book you'll...more
Such a New York book. I would love to take a class in which I would read this along with Didion's "Goodbye to All That," James Baldwin's "Another Country," Rona Jaffe's "The Best of Everything," Mary McCarthy's "The Group," Kathleen Norris's "The Virgin of Bennington," and Joyce Johnson's "Minor Characters."

It's such a collage of a book. I don't know if I'd call it experimental because it hardly feels like an experiment. Rather, the shifting stories and the vagueness of the characters (accompan...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...more
More about Elizabeth Hardwick...
Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature The New York Stories Herman Melville The Best American Essays 1986 American Fictions

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