12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Hermans' Beyond Sleep,
This review is from: Beyond Sleep (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.
"Beyond Sleep" repays the reader's interest--and, though I don't know Dutch, the translation reads like finely calibrated English as the protagonist's tone of voice (he's talking to himself throughout, it seems) gradually shifts from everyday to unhinged and back to hinged again (a bit like Poe, at his best, but not quite so grotesque--enough, though, to make me sometimes think of "The Telltale Heart" or "The Cask of Amontillado"). Buy it; you won't regret it.