Traditionally it might feel to some that many experimental writers are praised not for their prose, not for their ability to entertain a reader, not for their characterisation, but for their ideas. And in some cases this may be true. It's possible - likely, even - that experimental writers lean too heavily on their ideas, hoping it can carry a novel.
Fortunately, this is not what we have here. The nonlinear structure and Crook's ability as a writer (which, for a debut novel, is impressively refined) make this (necessarily) brief story a joy to read. Ideas presented in this book do not come across as gimmicky, but rather a necessity utilised to further the ideas and themes being explored. They have a purpose.
For instance, Crook uses his fragmented narrative to comment on:
(a) The uncertainty of what something means (and how our interpretations change when given the context of what happened before, or what will happen after, a scene).
(b) How we try to understand what's put in front of us (whether it's an interaction in real life, a dream we have, or a book we're reading).
(c) How fiction, memory and dreams are connected (for instance, the content of our dreams, our memory and our fiction - whatever we're reading - is presented to us in similar ways. Our dreams are ostensibly made up from stray thoughts we've had or events we've experienced. The same is true for the chaotic way our memory works. And when we read a work of fiction, we're presented with a fixed amount of material that was written by someone who merely wrote down their stray thoughts and was inspired by events they'd experienced. And who we are dictates how we respond when presented with this. We are helpless to control or change what we have, and we, like Grethe, have to merely accept things for what they are - the way she presents this manuscript in the order she received it. And we are in complete control as to what importance we place upon what we read, what we remember and what's in our dreams.
I suppose if this novel falls short anywhere, it's in its characterisation. Even though the setting of student housing is realised quite well, it is arguable that it's lacking a truly memorable or fascinating character. It feels like characterisation - or the possibility of characterisation - is overshadowed, overwhelmed, even, by the writer's desire to get the message/idea across. Though this novel certainly succeeds in a majority of areas - structure (tick: a very enjoyable read that handles its nonlinear narrative brilliantly) and plot (tick: the main storyline - in my eyes the relationship between Grethe and Berry - is fairly ordinary, but the length is perfect for what the writer wants to convey about relationships) - it lacks memorable characters (cross).
It could also be argued that just because something is supposed to be confusing doesn't necessarily make it any more enjoyable or forgivable. But fortunately Crook manages to keep on the positive-reading-experience side of things by making his novel's disorientation an effective technique that actually furthers the themes and plot, rather than being difficult for the sake of it. And it's true that sometimes difficult things are better, where experiences are more enjoyable because the journey you had getting there is more layered and engaging. But it's a risky game. The more obscurity you place into the novel, the more pressure you put on the experience being worth it. Whether it is or not is a decision made entirely by the reader.
But, despite this, there is still so much to enjoy about this novel.
Like how the author (the alive Jamie Crook) puts the reader in the same position the deceased Jamie Crook put Grethe in: both had material (writing) and both said to Grethe/the reader: here, do with it what you will. And we do. We read. We digest. We review.
Or how this is perhaps the closest you'll come to reading a novel and trying to solve a puzzle at the same time.
Or how Crook proves himself as a talented writer. Whether it's great, simple observations: "Everything and nothing could be explained by being drunk." Or beautiful, descriptive writing: "He observed how the smoke crashed against the glass, spread out like a wave and broke at the frame."
Or how the ending to Boy One's narrative contains some of the most vivid, obscure descriptions I've come across. Or how the ending to Grethe's narrative ties everything up brilliantly.
The question I found myself asking after reading Sleeping Patterns is this: no matter how we order something, do things seem more or less chaotic? Do things make more or less sense? Does the order in which something happens change what it means? And how can that idea be transferred to our experiences of reality? Whether we go through it or try to remember it, is it not in a jumbled, dreamlike state that we try to make sense of who we are and what we're doing?