A good book can be wonderfully soporific, lulling the reader into a state of relaxation. This week, an article in The Guardian reported that a book with the specific purpose of putting readers to sleep had been released. Apparently, This Book Will Send You to Sleep is so boring, or should I say, soothing, that sleep becomes irresistible.
Research suggests that this is not the only book that can help relax readers and promote sleep, while I can anecdotally attest to the soporific qualities of books. As part of my nightly ritual, I depend on books to send me into slumber, and panic that I will NEVER get to sleep if there isn’t one on my bedside table. My husband, on the other hand, believes that it is the soporific effect of books that means he can never stay awake long enough to read more than a page.
However, while I depend on a book to send me off to sleep, what I really want is a book that keeps me awake at night.
These are books that fall into two categories: the ones it is impossible to put down, or the page turners, and those that it is impossible to forget, the heartbreakers. Both are irresistible, and sometimes, the two types meet, and these are the books for which I am constantly searching.
Examples of books that I have found to sit in the former category, the page-turners, are The Girl on the Train, Big Little Lies, The Da Vinci Code, The Life of Pi and The Husband’s Secret.
These are books that you continue to read long after you should be sleeping, because you just want to know what happens next. Who is the killer? Is the secret revealed? What lurks under the surface in the seemingly perfect household? These are the best beach reads, and can be finished in one sitting (or more accurately, lying beside a pool).
Then there are the books that keep the reader awake for different reasons, preventing sleep long after the corner of the page has been folded and the book set aside. The circumstances in which the characters in these books find themselves are often chilling, and always unforgettable, weighing on the reader’s mind and inhabiting their dreams when sleep finally arrives.
I have had the mixed pleasure of being kept awake in this way by two books already this year – The Choke and Wimmera.
In The Choke, I could not forget the sense of hopelessness that Justine faced, as she struggled to navigate a world in which she was essentially alone. The Australian bush and squalid conditions that Sofie Laguna evoked were chilling, while the hopelessness of Justine’s situation was heartbreaking.
In Wimmera, it was the sense of innocence lost, and the impact on two boys’ lives, that kept me awake. Again, there was a familiarity of the suburbs in which the boys live, but Mark Brandi makes these streets and backyards seem sinister. There is enough of the idyllic childhood to lull the reader into a sense of nostalgia, before a darker reality comes to taint the landscape and lives of the characters.
In the past, some other books that have kept me awake include We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, All That I Am by Anna Funder, The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood, The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer and Beloved by Toni Morrison. These are character-driven stories, and all centre on heartbreak or tragedy. And perhaps that is why they haunt my sleep – they cause pain and sadness in a way that only the best literature can. The writers have evoked characters, stories and places that seem so real and true. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that quite a number of my heartbreaking reads have been written by Australian writers – the familiarity serving to deepen the impact of the story.
And so, while I might have cursed my tiredness after being kept awake by these books, it is a small price to pay for the insight, emotion and truths that comes with it. As a mother of three unpredictable little sleepers, I love my rest, but what I love more is a book that keeps me awake.