When I read The House of Sleep for the first time almost 20 years ago, it had me ricocheting between hysterical fits of laughter and heartfelt sobbing.
This is not how I operate in daily life. I admit: I was not in a good place when I first read it. I’d finished university, was totally lost about what to do next in love and
So there I was, living at home, and supposedly writing application letters by the score up in my bedroom, but not at all doing
I don’t remember all the intricacies of the plot, but I do know that – if you have ever loved someone who was hopelessly out of your reach – this book is going to hurt because it totally captures what that feels like.
Coe calls The House of Sleep a dark comedy, and that is also true: it’s a story that hurts, but the funny moments – and there are quite a few, thank God – are so wildly funny, you will bang your head against the radiator laughing (I know I did!). Bonus: It features a cat called Muriel.
I had the good fortune of meeting Jonathan Coe some years later during a tour. When I nervously walked up to him to have my copy of The House of Sleep signed, I told him my name and then that this book had a cat called Muriel in it (which was bovinely stupid of me: he wrote it, he knew that!) to which he graciously replied: “That’s absolutely right. And I have never signed this for a Muriel before.” Such a kind man, I almost hugged him on the spot.
Jonathan Coe has written quite a body of work. I haven’t read it all (yet), but the following books also come warmly recommended: What a Carve Up (hilariously funny, banging-head-against-radiator stuff) and Like A Fiery Elephant (a biography on the experimental novelist B.S. Johnson, which is captivating even if you haven’t read any Johnson). His latest novel is Middle England. And he’s coming to Brussels in March 2019!