Jonathan Coe – The House of Sleep


This is the third of JC’s biggies that I’ve read. What a Carve Up is magnificent and The Rotters Club is a hoot. But, aficionados told me the best was yet to come. I don’t know if it was the stop, start nature of the way I read it (it took me well over a month) but it just didn’t hit the same mark for me.

The plotting is dense (and frankly too dense for me to keep up with. (Ah, maybe that’s because you’re dense. Ed.) And yet the structure of shifting the story from the early to mid 80’s in alternate chapters is hardly rocket science. It’s set in a hospital that specialises in treating people with sleep disorders, situated on a cliff top in Ashdown where previously the man in charge, the more than slightly bonkers Dr Dudden, lodged in his university days. That’s where the whole thing stands or falls because the cast of characters all had some sort of link to the house back in the day and it all just got a bit too silly for my liking.

Maybe it was the characters. He rarely writes particularly sympathetically but this book is populated with caricatures that I never really cared for.

Don’t get me wrong though it is crafty and, in parts, crafted. He can deliver gags with ease can JC but too many of them in this novel were teed up and delivered ‘boom boom’ style.

I did laugh out loud on several occasions though.

Nah, if you only ever read one JC book, make it What a Carve up.