Book Review: Sleep Over by H.G. Bells
by H.G. Bells
You must’ve had a sleepless night. Working on that work project? Studying for finals? Writing that long essay? You go out in the morning, deliver your work, manage to get through the day until it’s finally time to get home. You go to sleep earlier than usual, and that moment when your head hits the pillow and you’re under the covers lives up to every unrealistic expectation of happiness you’ve built up in your mind throughout the day. But, what if when you get home you have another project, another exam, another deadline the next day, and you need to stay up all night again? What if you had to stay up all night for weeks and weeks on end? It’s terrifying, right? Welcome to the world of Sleep Over.
H.G. Bells imagines a world where the entire human race loses the ability to sleep all of a sudden. Mass insomnia starts off as an inconvenience, and develops into the deadliest threat to humanity’s existence. The novel is laid out in the “oral history” genre popularised by World War Z, giving you a different account of the Insomnia Apocalypse every few pages. The accounts are commissioned and compiled by an editor whose thoughts frame the book’s narrative, in an effort to document the stories of the few people who survived the apocalypse. An office worker in New York, a farmer who witnesses the collapse of The Three Gorges Dam in China, a child who was already living with severe insomnia even before the apocalypse, a researcher who goes far beyond the borders of morals and ethics trying to find the cure for this pandemic.
All around the world, people start dying of exhaustion. You may know some of the consequences of sleeplessness, but you probably don’t know about all of them. About what happens to your brain after a week without sleep. About what insomnia does to a young child, who needs sleep a lot more than adults. About what it does to babies, newborn or still in the womb. Tiredness, hallucinations, paranoia. Cities start burning down because of riots by mobs who have to take out their frustration on someone, or something, since the cause of their pain is unknown. This is one of the most remarkable and well-delivered aspects of the novel: how fragile we are that we don’t need zombies or alien invasions to risk our existence; a simple thing like mass insomnia will destroy us within a few weeks. You can see this realisation underlying the stories of most survivors, whether they were people who went far out of their way to help other when they could barely stand up themselves, or opportunistic drug dealers who made quick small fortunes by selling uppers to Wall Street executives. The final tone of the book is a blend of hope, catharsis, and closeness.
H.G. Bell’s Sleep Over: An Oral History of the Apocalypse is out today in the Uk and the US. Fans of World War Z, you’ll love this one. Pro tip: if you’re confident you’re going to like this book, I think a good reading strategy is going through one story each night before going to sleep.
BA English Literature, MSc Publishing. Passionate about contemporary literature, noir comics, beautifully shot films, and whiskies that are old enough to order their own whiskies. Can bore you to death with La La Land songs, Hollywood trivia, George Carlin references, and extensive knowledge on Leonard Cohen.