This is the story of two insomniacs, a young woman called Maya and an older man, Benoit. Maya wanders the city at night, envying those who can take a good night’s rest for granted. When she meets the equally insomniac and vulnerable Benoit, they empathise immediately. Maya recognizes a fellow sufferer in Benoit, who helps make her existence a little more bearable.
A literary phenomenonTrouw
Verbeke writes about the underdog, about people whose poignant yearning for a normal life arouses our compassion. She uses powerful, well-chosen metaphors to underpin her story and takes us to the heart of her characters’ loneliness, impotence and feelings of insignificance.
Most surprising of all is the tone of the book: simultaneously concise, terse and poetic, with a dash of irony, yet brimming nevertheless with genuine sympathy.
‘Sleep!’ is a convincing novel in which the author uses the complex personalities of her characters to pen a strikingly insightful vision of life and its experiences.
Funny, singular and movingDe Morgen
‘In 2003, we selected a manuscript from our massive pile of submissions entitled ‘Sleep!’ The author, a certain Annelies Verbeke, noted in her accompanying letter that she had wanted to send a huge cake along with her book from which she would suddenly appear and introduce herself.
That brought a smile to our faces, but what followed was more important: the manuscript itself was full of promise from the outset and that promise became more real with every page. Her work had stylistic strength, thematic appeal and clarity of structure. We invited the author for a conversation and the rest is history.
A positive review in the Dutch paper NRC, in which ‘Sleep!’ was praised as the best debut since Arnon Grunberg’s ‘Blue Mondays’, gave the book an incredible kick start. ‘Sleep!’ sold 75,000 copies, won the Flemish debut prize – the Gouden Ezelsoor – and was translated into 22 languages.
‘Sleep!’ marked the birth of a new voice in Dutch literature, and Annelies Verbeke has proven with her oeuvre so far that her debut wasn’t just a stroke of beginner’s luck. Her work is still slightly out of the box, continually focussing on new goals, and she remains a fervent advocate of the short story. All in all, a tremendous ambassador for Dutch-language literature.’