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Sleepless Nights

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  659 ratings  ·  103 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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s.penkevich
Feb 12, 2015 s.penkevich rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
...more
Garima
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
Aubrey
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
Brian
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
...more
Jonathan
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
...more
Vipassana
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
...more
Mikki
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
Daniel
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
Asya
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
Jimmy
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.
Jenna
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
Jim
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
Ali
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
Troy
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
Lobstergirl
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
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
Alicia
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
John
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
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
Katie
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
Karen
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
Maga Etchebarne
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
...more
Denali
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
...more
Taube
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
B.A.
This is not an easy read. It requires the reader to suspend the need for completion and that can be tough. Hardwick's narrator looks back on her life and examines her intereactions with others, moments, places, decisions. She alights upon each and looks closely and deeply. In many ways, this is a collection of flash fictions, of lyric essays. Once I got my head around that, I settled in and began to enjoy it. I could see this as cinema, albeit avant garde! It's the kind of book I would hope to r ...more
Carolee Wheeler
Thoroughly meandering and ultimately bleak and demoralizing. Some very nice pages about Billie Holiday (herself bleak and demoralized), but ultimately its benefit was that it was a short dose of agony, rather than a prolonged one.

The extra star is for the fantastic lines that seemed to cease after the first 10 pages.

"If one only knew what to remember or pretend to remember. Make a decision and what you want from the lost things will present itself. You can take it down like a can from the shelf
...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
Diane
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
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500 Great Books B...: Sleepless Nights - Elizabeth Hardwick - Garima 4 22 Jun 06, 2015 11:06AM  
NYRB Classics: Sleepless Nights, by Elizabeth Hardwick 2 8 Oct 30, 2013 06:40PM  
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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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“All of her news was bad and so her talk was punctuated with "of course" and "naturally.” 5 likes
“While you are living, part of you has slipped away to the cemetery.” 3 likes
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