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Sleepless Nights

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  2,062 ratings  ·  297 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 New York Review of Books (first published 1979)
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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 ·  2,062 ratings  ·  297 reviews

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Jan 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Adam Dalva
Oct 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
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
Jun 30, 2014 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
Jul 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Feb 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 care
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars
This is a sort of autobiographical fiction: written in 1979 when Hardwick was 63. It is a series of vignettes linked together (sometimes very tenuously) by the author. It is a memoir, novel, letter, essay and as one reviewer says: a poetic chronicle. It is inventive and perceptive. There is originality and a complete lack of plot, more like a piece of music than a novel. Elizabeth, the protagonist of the novel is hardly seen. The fragmentary nature of the novel and the steady narrative
aayushi girdhar
Mar 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa
a review of sorts, for this memoir of sorts.

• i often look at my past with enormous longing and a slight touch of pride. but it's seldom that I read something which engulfs me into such a wondrous melancholia that I find myself being evoked with every word my eyes embrace. i could only paint for you a picturesque view of what my inner feelings must have looked like while reading this magnificently written stream of consciousness - it would be like listening to jazz on those cold sleepless nights
Lee Klein
Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it
A respectful three stars. Some really strong moments but overall it felt too privileged, a sense that grew and grew until it overwhelmed my appreciation of the strong, smart sentences, like they were too tasteful. As with Speedboat, which I read before this and very much preferred, too much of a good thing became -- by about three-fourths through -- not enough for me. A great few pages about Billie Holiday but that section seemed like the climax of my interest and the rest went downhill. Glad I ...more
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
“Tell me, is it true that a bad artist suffers as greatly as a good one? There were many performers at the Hotel Schuyler, but they gave no hint of suffering from the failure of their art. Perhaps the art had changed its name and came to their minds as something else – employment. ”

- Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights is one of those -far too rare- works of literature which unmercifully teases its audience with its non-normative, plotless, collage-like, amorphous storytelling.
Jun 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jeff Jackson
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Proust up all night in her rent-controlled New York City apartment, counting the passing taxis while waiting for the rumble of the garbage trucks that signal the first stirrings of dawn, running low on cigarettes while rereading old letters, slipping entire vanished worlds snugly inside a slim volume of 128 pages.
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
[3.5] Although only 128 pages, this "novel" took me almost a month to finish. It reads like a distilled writer’s notebook - exquisitely rendered thoughts, character studies and impressions written down for use in a novel or memoir. The prose is rich and lovely but it felt aimless. ...more
Mar 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Lee Foust
Dec 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The first cliche that came to mind was "a writer's writer." Which is true in the sense that, as a writer, I appreciate more than anything else an amazing sentence. Sleepless Nights is one of the finest wrought collection of sentences ever put together by a writer and is therefore more than remarkable. Because an amazing collection of sentences is perhaps a greater achievement than those endlessly well plotted 18th and 19th century novels, those fat, meandering medieval Romances, or even the 24 b ...more
Hardwick’s 1979 work is composed of (autobiographical?) fragments about the people and places that make up a woman’s elusive remembered past. Elizabeth shares a New York City apartment with a gay man; lovers come and go; she mourns for Billie Holiday; there are brief interludes in Amsterdam and other foreign destinations. She sends letters to “Dearest M.” and back home to Kentucky, where her mother raised nine children. “My mother’s femaleness was absolute, ancient, and there was a peculiar, hel ...more
Bree Hill
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A tad bit dense but well worth it. There isn’t really a story line but an older woman reflects on her life. Each “story” is in a way a reflection or meditation. You witness events and meet people who shaped her life. I️ love this kind of thing, it was well worth the read.
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
Diane Barnes
Mar 12, 2018 rated it liked it
This felt like a series of articles for the New Yorker magazine, that might be more appreciated by those more intellectual than me. Disjointed and hard to follow. I was able to isolate a few brilliant passages, but not worth the trouble.
A life in fragments, a masterclass of concision. This speaks to the artifice of unbroken narrative that convention sees us superimposing on ourselves in the light of day, and how that quality of time passing can become undone in the solitary night.
Jun 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: female, nyrb, year-1970s, novel
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.
Aug 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 23, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Sep 20, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: literature
This book is beautifully written. The author has a way with words. But she really has nothing to say.

The chapters consist of descriptions of people she's known and places where she has lived or visited. There is no story, no plot, no connection between any of the people or situations. There is no one in the book who I would want to know. No one has any depth, it's all very superficial.

The literary language is the whole thing. She's just playing with language. If you like that kind of thing, yo
Ginger Bensman
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary-fiction
A plotless experimental work of perfectly rendered scenes that are sharply focused and precise. Truly, an inspiring literary feat!
May 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Objectively good/subjectively don't give a shit. ...more
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
5/5. Having grown up in Kentucky, eighth in a Protestant family of eleven children, Elizabeth Hardwick knew she wanted to be a New York Jewish intellectual. And so she was, except for the Jewish part. Critic, essayist, novelist, co-founder of The New York Review of Books, she lived in New York for most of her life with interludes in Europe and Boston during her long, tumultuous marriage to poet Robert Lowell.

Sleepless Nights, published in 1979 when she was 63, is both a novel and a meditation on
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
At times, this title felt like it was stalking me or hunting me down. I remember hearing about it years ago, someone (I can't recall who) enthusiastically recommending it to me. I marked it as to-read in 2014. I purchased the NYRB edition last year, along with her book of essays, SEDUCTION AND BETRAYAL, which I read last August and loved. I'm not sure why it took me so long to read her novel. But it creeped in on me. Lauren Groff wrote an entire NYTimes essay in praise of it last summer. It woul ...more
Jun 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels-english
I see that I had read this in mid-2016, and completely forgotten it. To me the prose was ponderous and pretentious. Hard to match the photos with the (claimed) voice. She lived in the shadow of a genius for 23 years, and there is a touch of the ‘stretch’ to her, of — however bright — the second-rate.
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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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