A largely autobiographical account of an unhappy childhood, Sleep Has his House startled with its strangeness in 1948. Today it is one of Anna Kavan's most acclaimed books. A daring synthesis of memoir and surrealist experimentation, Sleep Has His House charts chronologically the stages of the subject's gradual withdrawal from all interest in and contact with the daylight world of received reality. Brief flashes of daily experience from childhood, adolescence and youth are described in what Kavan terms 'night-time language' - a heightened, decorative prose that frees these events from their gloomy associations. The novel suggests we have all spoken this dialect in childhood and in our dreams, but these thoughts can only be sharpened, or decoded by contemplation in the dark. Anna Kavan maintained that the plot of a book is only the point of departure, beyond which she tries to reveal that side of life which is never seen by the waking eye, but which dreams and drugs can suddenly illuminate.
She spent the last ten years of her life literally and metaphorically shutting out the light; the startling discovery of Sleep Has His House is how much these night-time illuminations reveal her joy for the living world.
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(186mm x 138mm x 16mm)
Peter Owen Publishers
Publisher: Peter Owen Publishers
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US Kirkus Review »
Reprints of early work by a much-institutionalized, drug-addicted English writer who died in 1968 (apparently of a heroin overdose) and whose last generally available work was the posthumous Julia and the Bazooka (1975), a grouping of twelve angles on a tormented consciousness. Similarly, the Asylum Piece collection - originally published in 1940, the first (and perhaps best) work that Kavan did under her own name rather than the Helen Woods pseudonym - offers 21 sketches of a tormented soul in and out of asylum: fantasies of persecution, interminable hours, galling humiliations. And strangely enough, the matter-of-fact experiences outside the asylum, among "decent people," are far more wrenching than the more self-consciously evocative recreations of institutional misery. (A minor embarrassment at a restaurant: "I began to wonder, as I have wondered ever since, whether the good opinion of anybody in the whole world is worth all I have had to suffer and must still go on suffering - for how long; oh, for how long.?") Sleep Has His House, originally published in 1948, is a grim childhood memoir that has none of that matter-of-fact chill, straining instead for a dreamlike quality - often beautiful but generally less effective. At her best, Kavan is a powerful recorder of plain-spoken pain; elsewhere the self-pity and poetic rollings add up to banal overkill (as in much of Joyce Carol Oates' work). But in any case the real-life basis for this dark, bitter prose generates a degree of fascination; and for those interested in the literature of drug-heightened or drug-damaged minds, this will certainly be required reading. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Anna Kavan
Anna Kavan was one of the greatest unsung enigmas in 20th-century British literature. Born as Helen Ferguson, who had a fraught childhood and two failed marriages led her to change her name to that of one of her characters. Despite struggling with mental illness and heroin addiction for most of her life, she was still able to write fiction that was as powerful and memorable as any English female writer of the last 150 years.