Novel, letter, essay, memoir? Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights

Eimear McBride in The Guardian:

Within the first few pages of Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights the narrator writes of her fondly remembered, now long-deceased mother: “I never knew a person so indifferent to the past. It was as if she did not know who she was.” It’s an unsentimental, matter-of-fact kind of assessment of a life that, having failed to be the occasion of much self-examination in its possessor, is now dwindling unhindered into a soon-to-be-forgotten past. Hardwick’s narrator – and fellow Elizabeth – doesn’t fault her mother for this dimly lit sense of self or lack of strongly asserted identity. Rather, in much the same way that she and her many siblings respond to their mother’s prodigious childbearing by offering up a singularly low birth rate of their own, she simply adopts a fundamentally different approach.

Sleepless Nights – first published in 1979 when its author was 63, renowned and respected as one of the pre-eminent writers in her field – stands in polar opposition to this maternal model of the deserted self and, most particularly, of the deserted female self. There is no confusion of selfhood or incoherence of purpose. This is a narrator who knows who she is and, pretty much, how she got to be that way. The resultant restive narrative is a deep delve into the processes of her thinking as she sleeplessly rolls back and forth across ideas, memories and conclusions. For the reader it is this encounter with a formidable mind working hard, mapping the journey from its root consciousness through myriad perceptions and recollections out into the physical world – where it may, or may not, allow itself to be changed by what it finds – which forms the spine of pleasure that holds the fragmented narrative together.

More here. (Note: One of my all-time favorite books!)