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Beyond Sleep Hardcover – 6 Jul 2006

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (6 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843432056
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843432050
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 2.7 x 22.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 780,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A masterpiece of world literature (Die Welt)

A Kafka and Céline-inspired novel, which mixes...the black Romanticism of the 19th-century and the cold, laconic thriller art of the 20th-century (Frankfurter Allgemeine)

Hermans is one of the most important European authors of the second half of the twentieth century (Cees Nooteboom)

Book Description

A gripping tale of a man approaching breaking point set beyond the end of the civilised world: a modern classic of European literature.

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By James Connelly on 19 Sep 2007
Format: Hardcover
A Wall Street Journal review of Hermans' "Beyond Sleep" by Willem Otterspeer, a Dutch professor, piqued my interest. Herman's name was new to me, but the review was enthusiastic and intriguing enough to prompt a purchase. It is a remarkable and gripping first-person narrative, sustained in the present tense through the many shades of voice that circumstances draw from the protagonist. Reviews may lead readers to expect rollicking humor, but that is not the case. Hermans' humor is too subtle and indirect for that. The send-up of academic jealousy and rivalry is quite amusing. A scene late in the book where the protagonist is oblivious to striking, real-time evidence in support of his quest to prove his theory about meteorites is sly. As there is no omniscient third-party narrator to point things out for the reader, all you have is the character's voice and thoughts as reference points in the nearly featureless white nights of Norway's far-North. Not often will solitude, hunger, dampness, insomnia, delirium, and mosquitoes be the stuff of cosmic humor. Being inside the narrator's head and seeing only what he sees can be rather disorienting, for you cannot be sure that his perceptions (your only reference point) are true or delusional. A really good book, and funny despite that seeming gloom--good enough to spur my immediate purchase of "Darkroom of Damocles". I'm told that Hermans' essays are many, varied, and fine. Perhaps Milan Kundera's interest in Hermans will prompt some publisher to sponsor an English translation of a selection of these.Read more ›
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Joepert on 23 Oct 2007
Format: Hardcover
Dutch fiction isn't exactly widely spread around the world, but there are some gems. Willem Frederik Hermans is considered one of the "Grand Three" Dutch novellists, with Harry Mulisch (The assault, The discovery of heaven) and Gerard Reve. He died in 1995 and only now, 40 years after it's initial release in the Netherlands, his masterpiece has been translated into English. I read it every 5 years or so and it reveals new aspects everytime I read it.
What makes this novel (and his other recently translated "The dark room of Damocles" (1958)) so good is the fact that the story has three layers: first of all it's an adventure and thus a page-turner. Secondly, it's a psychological novel, in which the main character is given a lot of depth. Last but not least: Hermans is an uncomprimising critic of modern society.
Since English is not my native language, it is hard for me to find the right words to describe the virtues of his writing, but I really think that you should give it a try. I hardly read anything but English/American literature but Hermans is one of the few Dutch writers that really do matter to me.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Charles Bison on 28 Jun 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book, originally published in dutch under the title "nooit meer slapen" is THE masterpiece of dutch litterature; an absolute must. I read this book about ten times in dutch and in german where it appeared under the title of "nie mehr schlafen" at Kiepenheuer Verlag.

Hermans, considered one of the "Three Great" with Mulish and Reve, died in 1995. His view throughout his whole oeuvre was that in practice, people are born to annoy other people... which -actuality shows- is not so far from reality. However, in this book particulary, the description of his recurrent theme are not only extremely sharp but also very funny... Although a feared polemist, Hermans never let aside humour. If there is one book you should read of him, then go without fear for this masterpiece. Generally spoken, his best book is supposed to be "The Dark Room Of Damocles", which is to be reedited somewhere in 2007. To my opinion that's his second best book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bas on 24 July 2010
Format: Hardcover
When you write your thesis or dissertation, or when you are doing research - read this book. Everything goes wrong. Alfred doesn't believe in his reseach, he doesn't believe in himself. This failure makes Great Literature. Nobel Prize worthy!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Best book I've read in years 26 July 2007
By Aaron Schlechter - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Beyond Sleep is a modern classic of European fiction, a hilarious and captivating story, set beyond the edge of the civilized word, as one man approaches a breaking point.

The young Dutch geologist Alfred Issendorf is determined to win fame for making a great discovery. To this end he joins a small geological expedition, which travels to the far North of Norway, where he hopes to prove a series of craters were caused by meteorites and are littered with extraterrestrial "Issendorfite," but ultimately realizes he's more likely to drown in a fiord or be eaten by parasites.

Unable to procure crucial aerial photographs, and beset by mosquitoes and insomnia in his freezing leaky tent, Alfred becomes increasingly desperate and paranoid. Haunted by the ghost of his scientist father, unable to escape the looming influence of his mother, and anxious to complete the thesis that will make his name, he moves toward the final act of vanity which will trigger a catastrophe.

A deadpan comedy reminiscent of Heller or Vonnegut at their best, with more than a dash of Kafka, Beyond Sleep is a unique and illuminating examination of how hard it is to be a true pioneer in the modern world- a masterpiece.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Real Literature 5 Aug 2007
By Bernard M. Patten - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Everything is interesting about this novel, its tone, pace, style, diction, setting, development, conflicts, characters, and change. One would have liked to see some more than passing romantic interest, but alas that's not possible for Alfred who operates close to the dark-side fringe of human compassion. The comments about the existence of God are tacked on, but interesting, especially the long list of evils that God permits to afflict his creation. All in all, a most satisfying read. Try it. You'll like it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Questing in the Far North 14 Aug 2009
By R. M. Peterson - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
BEYOND SLEEP is an odd novel. Its protagonist, Alfred Issendorf, is a 25-year-old Dutch geology student, who goes to the wilderness of Finnmark (northernmost Norway) to look for evidence of meteors in order to prove the pet theory of his university thesis supervisor. Plagued by mosquitoes, rain, the midnight sun, and his own ineptitude and lack of conditioning, Alfred bogs down, miserably, in his mission. But there also is a second quest, an existential one -- namely, Alfred's quest for some meaning in life. I leave it to readers to discover how successful Alfred is in that second mission, although the title of the novel, I think, provides a clue.

Not only is the plot strange, but the style of the novel is unusual. First, it is very informal, told first-person in almost stream-of-consciousness fashion. Second, it displays a wide range of styles of humor, from the wry and dry to, occasionally, the absurd and farcical. Finally, Alfred is a sort of amateur metaphysician, who shares with the reader all sorts of off-beat ideas -- some worthwhile and some sophomoric -- as well as a few rather hackneyed ones (e.g., "Life's a dream.").

An example from the "worthwhile" category: "Maybe it would have been better if I had failed in my first year at university. * * * But then what? What would I have done? Become a flautist after all? How will I ever find out? No-one can start over at the same point twice. If an experiment can't be replicated, it ceases to be an experiment. No-one can experiment with their life. No-one can be blamed for being in the dark."

BEYOND SLEEP was an easy read, which contributed to the impression, while reading it, that it was a relatively simple novel. But it is deceptive in that simplicity. The more I reflect on it, the more I realize Hermans (a noted Dutch author, circa 1950-1990) packed into it. I don't believe that it is a great novel, and I suspect that it will not appeal to everyone (not by a long shot), but for me and my sometimes idiosyncratic tastes it proved to be moderately entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking. I would not be surprised to find myself picking it up again a few years hence, and I certainly will seek out the one other Hermans novel so far to be translated into English, "The Darkroom of Damocles".
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Sly Humor of Small-landers 13 Aug 2009
By Giordano Bruno - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you created a map of Europe on which the countries were represented by their historical 'mass' rather than their square kilometers, Netherlands would be as large as France or Germany. Likewise a map displaying scientific and technological achievement. There's a sense of such wry self-awareness about this Dutch novel, read by far more people in translation than ever in the original language. The narrator, Alfred Issendorf, journeys from his small flatland, the most densely populated nation in the world, to the emptiness of northern Norway, Ultima Thule for him in every way. The comedy of manners that he portrays -- his fumbling communication via English and German with his Norwegian companions, no one being able to express what he feels or thinks coherently -- makes for one layer of social/historical meaning in this many-layered novel. That's how it goes for Small-landers in a world ruled by the languages of Big-landers.

Alfred is a bit of a nerd. A nebbish, a mama's boy, a navel-gazer. He fumbles badly in planning his grand scientific expedition. He is ridiculously under-equipped and hopelessly inexperienced in wilderness lore. He lacks the physical conditioning of an outdoorsman. As he slowly recognizes, he also lacks the intuition of an observer-scientist. He's the wrong guy in the wrong field for the wrong reasons, and he's way outside his safety zone, completely overmatched by the harshness of the tundra. Of course, everything goes from sorry ineptitude to serious danger, but the surprise is that Alfred finds the resources in himself to survive, a heroic effort really but one that he has to mock: mere survival is hardly greatness.

"Beyond Sleep" begins with a muddle of miscommunication, Alfred's hapless efforts to secure the maps that he needs to find evidence of his thesis, and ends with another muddle, Alfred's lame encounters with two beautiful females, one too young, one too old for him. The muddle and the inconsequentiality of experience is not just loose plotting of the novel; it's the whole story. Meanwhile, squeezed between these goofy episodes, there's an 'existential' novel of considerable suspense and emotional power, the tale of Alfred versus both Nature and his own nature.

There's another level of writing in "Beyond Sleep", the dubious pleasure of vicarious misery. Alfred IS miserable out there on the tundra. He's carrying a pack much heavier than he is ready for. He has the wrong shoes, the wrong sleeping gear, and preposterously little food for such a trip. It rains constantly. He falls in the river fords and soaks his gear, and then he falls and scrapes his leg badly enough to make gangrene a threat. Two of his three companions, arrogantly well-prepared and seasoned hikers, abandon him, while the third is as bonkers as he is, and as quixotic. Worst of all, the mosquitoes! I've done a lot of back-country camping in the far North; I read this novel, in fact, while hiking in the Laurentides mountains of Quebec, where mosquitoes are not unknown. The mosquitoes in "Beyond Sleep" are so accurately described, so horribly itchy on the page, that I fear I'll wake up scratching for months after I get home. Alfred's suffering is at the same time laughable and pitiable, and no doubt "existential." What a thing is Man, driven by his ego to feed swarms of bugs with his life-blood! Let me tell you, mosquitoes don't share our perceptions of futility.

Other reviewers have complained that "Beyond Sleep" is disorganized and anti-climactic. If you're looking for a straight-ahead adventure story, you may agree with them. But this is a novel about the equivalence of success and failure. Alfred's goal out there on the tundra is to find a meteor, to prove his thesis that meteor impacts have shaped the landscape there. He finds nothing to support his idea. However, as he is escaping with his life if not his self-esteem, a veritable meteor impact occurs precisely where he had been searching. Alas, Alfred is too self-absorbed to recognize the impact for what it is. His thesis can be proven after all, but he won't get the credit for it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A tragicomic quest for immortality 19 May 2008
By brainowner - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Willem Frederik Hermans is arguably the most important postwar Dutch writer and this work is one of his greatest. It will therefore hardly be possible to do justice to it in a short review. The book is about a young Dutch geologist who takes part in a scientific expedition in Finnmarken (northern parts of Norway). His aim, and the topic of his PhD research, is to prove that certain circular lakes in this area are holes caused by the result of meteorite impacts. At first glance the book may strike the reader as a rather dry-comic description of a failed scientific expedition taking place in a place where the sun never sets and mosquitos are ever present pests. At second glance some unusual features that are likely to strike the reader include: the disorienting mixture of comic irreverance and intellectual depth of the discussions between the characters in the book, the sharp and ruthless demystification of the 'elevated' activity of 'scientific research' (certainly striking in 1966), and maybe the references to Freudian theory. However, the real topic of this book lies well beneath these surface features.

The main character of this book (Alfred Issendorf) is on a quest. Although practically the quest is just to find proof of his advisor's hypothesis that certain lakes are meteorite craters, beneath the surface this is all a metaphor for a much more general quest, namely the quest for immortality (which may be the oldest story in existence, i.e. Gilgamesh). Alfred tries to attain immortality by making an immortal scientific discovery. As the old Norwegian professor puts it near the beginning of the book: science is humanity's titanic attempt to escape from its isolation in this universe. In this sense the PhD topic is also metaphorical. Just as humanity has tended to look for the meaning of life not here on this earth, but in what lies beyond life itself, Alfred wants to prove that objects from beyond this earth (meteorites) have come down to leave their marks. Similarly, the nightless landscape of Finnmarken alludes to the topic of the quest, immortality. btw. in Dutch the title of the book is literally 'to sleep never more'.

As the book progresses, the author piles up evidence to the crucial tragic fact that is the topic of this book: that even if Alfred were to make an 'immortal discovery', it would be the discovery and not him, Alfred, his personal thoughts and feelings, that would become immortal. In the end the quest for immortality is bound to fail. Along the way to this tragic conclusion the author manages to not only entertain and amuse us but also share some rather profound ideas. Some of my favorite examples include the suggested connection between the invention of photography and the phenomenon of psychological identity crisis, the claim that one day machines will have become so much better at doing science than humans that all 'true science' will be done by machines and that humans will only engage in scientific research as a form of entertainment (which more than 40 years after the book appeared is still a rather modern idea). And finally, the prophecy that humanity will eventually go extinct by realizing its own futility.
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