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The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  591 ratings  ·  126 reviews
In 2016, Samantha Harvey began to lose sleep. She tried everything to appease her wakefulness: from medication to therapy, changes in her diet to changes in her living arrangements. Nothing seemed to help.

The Shapeless Unease is Harvey’s darkly funny and deeply intelligent anatomy of her insomnia, an immersive interior monologue of a year without one of the most basic hu

Kindle Edition, 192 pages
Published May 12th 2020 by Grove Press (first published January 9th 2020)
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". . . my friend looks at me with infinite compassion and says, une petite nuit? Oui, I say, une petite nuit, encore. In this expression, French has it all wrong; nights awake are the longest, largest, most cavernous of things. There is acre upon acre of night, and whole eras come and go, and there isn't another soul to be found on the journey through to morning."

The Shapeless Unease is, as its subtitle puts it, about its author's year of not sleeping. But to say that this book is about insomnia
Valerity (Val)
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
I was so hoping to relate to this one, having myself suffered for years from insomnia due to a condition that is now (CSA) Central Sleep Apnea. This author's year of insomnia led her to express it in this book, but I must be too sleep deprived to get into her stream of consciousness delivery. It may be lovely for well-rested readers, but I threw in the towel. It caused me to be unconscious. I tried more than once, but had to give up. DNF. ...more
Varsha Ravi (between.bookends)
Where do I even begin with The Shapeless Unease. It’s an amalgamation of personal memoir, essays, snippets of fiction that have been birthed from the author’s period of extreme sleep deprivation. One would assume the complete lack of such a fundamental need would result in something hazy and confused, but instead, it’s the polar opposite. Harvey’s musings, that span grief, death, philosophy and more are startlingly clear, profound, moving and deeply insightful. It really got under my skin. The i ...more
I tried and failed to read this book several times during the last few months of my pregnancy where I suffered, for the first time in my life, from insomnia myself. But the beginning of this book rang so true that it ended up too much for me. Now that falling asleep really is not a problem anymore, I finally finished the book and I am glad I did, even if it did not often work for me. Samantha Harvey approaches her insomnia from different angles, many of which are experimental in narrative struct ...more
Jonathan K
In a word, not my cup of tea. Depressing and failed to engage. While I'm sure it appeals to some, I decided against going further, aka DNF. ...more
May 12, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc
I was given an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

DNF @ 26%

I'll say very little about this.
I'm a psychology student. This book NEEDS trigger warnings. I didn't have any in the info page at the beginning, the Goodreads synopsis, the NetGalley synopsis or ANYWHERE. This book WILL give people panic attacks. You can't just write whatever the fuck you want and not be responsible for it because it's a book and it's art and it can't ever be wrong. So, TRIGGER WARNINGS:
Alexandra Santos
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic
A lyrical, swirling, furious attempt to pin down sleeplessness. Anyone who has ever suffered from insomnia will feel seen to the nth degree, with new, nicely arranged words to point at that describe the spiral that is insomnia. Funny enough, I started the book at 1am on a sleepness night and read about a third of the book all in one quiet hour on the living room couch. I put the book down, feeling recognized and peaceful enough with my struggle to give the whole sleeping thing another go. When I ...more
Apr 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
I received this from for a review.

Samantha Harvey has tried everything just to get some sleep: from medication to therapy, changes in her diet to changes in her living arrangements.

This book seems like a very cathartic way for the author to cope with insomnia. I hope she is now getting some restful sleep. I found the writing a bit disjointed and hard to follow.

Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolute triumph. Harvey puts into words so perfectly the intimate terror of anxiety that feels impossible to articulate. I've already put a reminder in my diary to reread this in a year's time, but I doubt I'll need it. ...more
Bart Van Overmeire
This book about insomnia worked at 3am as well as Sunday afternoon, drifting between waking and sleeping (because, well, 3am the night before and drowsy on the couch beneath a blanket). Very good, but no idea whether it works for good sleepers.
Sep 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Earlier this year, I wrote about Marina Benjamin’s Insomnia, a luminous meditation on the hinterland between longed-for sleep and unwelcome wakefulness. Samantha Harvey’s The Shapeless Unease could be viewed as something of a companion piece to the Benjamin. It’s just as beautifully written, a book that brilliantly evokes the fragmentary nature of this condition, perfectly capturing the freewheeling association between seemingly disparate thoughts as the mind flits from one topic to another.

In t
Natalie (CuriousReader)
Review originally published:

When I first stumbled upon The Shapeless Unease among upcoming releases, I thought it sounded a bit like Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation – which I along with most everyone I know loved. But while both books tackle sleep-problems and span a year, their resemblance ends there – Samantha Harvey’s The Shapeless Unease is a memoir of one year where she struggles with sleep and through this experience, she writes not about
Apr 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
As someone who has never had trouble sleeping I have always wondered what could render people sleepless. In fact, I am ashamed to admit that I have, on some occasions, thought of insomnia as the privileged’s preserve—a manifestation of their solipsism. I couldn’t have found a better book than The Shapeless Unease to rectify my ill-founded prejudices.

The Shapeless Unease is Samantha Harvey’s account of her year long tussle with sleeplessness, a period in which she felt intense exhaustion and dre
Nathalie (keepreadingbooks)
I don’t have a lot of smart words to describe this one, and I’m not sure I can even attempt to review it objectively – my reasons for liking this book are too personal.

Having had more-or-less serious sleeping problems on and off since 2016, I see a lot of myself in Harvey’s book. The things she does to help herself sleep (and failing), the thoughts that haunt her, the very raw emotions that emerge when the whole world is asleep and you’re not.

The fragmented style of the book is perfect, mirrori
vidyuth Kini
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book on a hunch, having never heard of the author nor having read any recommendations. I do however have a deep interest in consciousness and have suffered brief periods of insomnia (3 to 4 days max at a time) for several years.

In that sense the book resonated with me. It’s structure mimics the mind in a state of continuous sleeplessness. It is often a troubled mind that can’t sleep and this book is a testament to that. I have found this is not always a bad thing and the lack of s
Jan 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

How do you review something that resonates so deeply with you?

Blending essay, memoir, and fiction, Harvey’s fragmented prose reflects that of her sleepless state: she meanders through memories, existential anxieties and present emotions with a succinct style that articulates her courage in the face of a potentially life-shattering condition.

Harvey’s aphorisms resonated with me powerfully, intensely and searchingly. She deftly weaves together a narrative concerned not only with sleeplessness, an
Paul "Axl" Hurman
I can't exactly pinpoint what it is that made me love this book as much as I do. It's a bit of a mish mash jumble of styles, but it feels totally natural. It is written in a way that somehow manages to read like how insomnia feels. Tangents and sidesteps and diversions, never settling into any one thing. It should be a confused mess of a book, but it is exquisitely written and utterly wonderful. Yeah, I loved it. ...more
Kay Cardona
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have no words to describe this book. The language, the detail, the atmosphere... it's an amazing , amazing book. What a wonderful writer. The beauty of realism! I loved every word, every emotion every observation of life. I will read it again as I am sure I missed out on some emotion as I was still surfing a previous one. ...more
Moritz Mueller-Freitag
An introspective, stream-of-conscious memoir about the author’s year-long struggle with insomnia. Harvey’s fragmented prose mimics the wandering of the sleepless mind perfectly. Profound and deeply insightful; not at all soporific!
Sam S
Jun 06, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, non-fiction
3.5 stars

This was a very stream of consciousness style book about the emotions and thoughts the author had while struggling with insomnia.

Though I find the writing very lyrical, it was hard to follow at times, which makes sense. There was a heavy focus on death, which was unexpected.

I read this book because I am struggling with mild to moderate insomnia, and this book put me to sleep twice... Not sure what to say about that! Thank you?
I liked but didn’t love it, possibly because I wanted this to be Marina Benjamin’s Insomnia. Benjamin’s take on not sleeping is gentler, more essey-like and perhaps too romanticised, but I enjoyed it a lot and recommend it highly. If you are fascinated by the topic, Harvey is well worth reading too.
Lindsey King
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is potentially the best book I’ve read this year. Perfect in many ways.
Jamila Herman-Prowse
For a book about not sleeping Samantha Harvey’s The Shapeless Unease is overflowing with rationale and clarity. The prose were so smooth, articulate and enjoyable to read, as was the combination of non-fiction, stream of consciousness and short fiction. I found the book to be soothing even through the discussion of insomnia, grief and death. This is how I wish I could write - with an intelligence and skill that is unshakeable even in the communication of personal and oft frustrating experiences, ...more
Sep 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is no sequential story but for some reason I didn't find that frustrating. It's more a collection of the writer's experiences and observations. She describes some feelings and thoughts that probably all humans have but don't know how to or just never try to verbalise. I've never had full blown insomnia myself but I found how she articulated how sleep deprivation feels very relatable. ...more
Jess Smiley
Dec 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sprawling meditations on insomnia, struggle, language, Great Britain, kinship, faith, reason, writing, a bank robbery, ineffable dreams.
Sep 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely gorgeous, I'm so grateful for the sincere, haunted beauty of this book! ...more
Kay (aka) Miss Bates
My sole response to reaching the end of Samantha Harvey’s The Shapeless Unease was gratitude, not to Harvey, but to reaching the end and not giving up. It was a long, difficult slog, but I made it, sheer stubbornness propelling me forward to its vague conclusion. It’s not a terrible book, not by litfic, and not memfic, standards: it has the requisite lyrical prose, occasional, brilliant insight, only to lapse into lyrical existential-babble that hopes to dissolve the self, or digressive, tangent ...more
Actually put me to sleep!
I was disappointed in this. I was hoping for some resolution but it was more a disjointed stream of consciousness of all her fears that came up when she couldn't sleep. Came across as quite naive and superficial. I wasn't happy with her explanation about why she "believed in" Science. Quite rightly she said Science is not a belief but Science doesn't just verify "facts". Scientific method is a repeatable process where given a set of parameters you get the same result eac
Nov 29, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book was painfully excruciating— I get what the author was trying to depict here by writing an endless stream of conscious thoughts that came to mind while she couldn’t sleep, but it just didn’t work for me. Nothing flowed, nothing made sense, and the only reason I even finished the book was because it wasn’t very long. Still, I’m baffled at why this was long listed for the Booker Prize, but maybe some folks out there love this sort of random rambling because it feels artsy or diffe ...more
The Shapeless Unease by Samantha Harvey is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late April.

Though Harvey mentions straightaway that this is going to be a dread-full book, yeah, it is most definitely that and a book matching what might be meandering in someone’s mind during depressive quarantine in a flow of heavy consciousness, while analyzing their sleep cycle and how they’ve faulted in waking life, pondering their impending demise, waning between comfort and discomfort.
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Samantha Harvey has completed postgraduate courses in philosophy and in Creative Writing. In addition to writing, she has traveled extensively and taught in Japan and has lived in Ireland and New Zealand. She recently co-founded an environmental charity and lives in Bath, England.

Her first novel, The Wilderness, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009, longlisted for the 2009 Man Boo

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“When I don't sleep, it's not that I feel tired so much as assaulted. In the morning after a night of no sleep my eyes are sore and tender and can barely open. My joints ache. There's a taste in my mouth which isn't like any other taste, only a feeling, and that feeling is defeat. My skull aches evenly across its hemisphere. [...] I go to bed at night, I get beaten up, come downstairs in the morning. Then I go about the day as if things were normal and I hadn't been beaten up, and everyone else treats me as if I hadn't been beaten up, and that way I survive, but no more than that. If somebody willed your destruction they could do it this way, by taking away your sleep. Of course, it's tried and tested” 3 likes
“To write fiction you have to engage in organised fraud, the laundering of experience into the offshore haven of words.” 2 likes
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