A largely autobiographical account of an unhappy childhood,
Sleep Has His House startled with its strangeness in
1948. Today it is one of Anna Kavans most acclaimed
A daring synthesis of memoir and surrealist experimentation,
Sleep Has His House charts chronologically the stages
of the subjects gradual withdrawal from all interest
in and contact with the daylight world of received reality.
Brief flashes of daily experience from childhood, adolescence
and youth are described in what Kavan terms night-time
language a heightened, decorative prose that
frees these events from their gloomy associations. The novel
suggests we have all spoken this dialect in childhood and
in our dreams, but these thoughts can only be sharpened, or
decoded by contemplation in the dark.
Anna Kavan maintained that the plot of a book is only the
point of departure, beyond which she tries to reveal that
side of life which is never seen by the waking eye, but which
dreams and drugs can suddenly illuminate. She spent the last
ten years of her life literally and metaphorically shutting
out the light; the startling discovery of Sleep has His
House is how much these night-time illuminations reveal
her joy for the living world.
A near-masterpiece in the imaginative speculations of
those whose paradise simultaneously contains their hell.
Anna Kavans night-time language
is in no way obscure: on the contrary, her dreams are as carefully
notated as paintings by Dalí or de Chirico.
Her dramas are haunted by a tall woman in black
her mother. There is also a revealing passage of an addicts
sordid bedroom, littered with needles and spilled powders
. . . Her writing is magnificent. It is a fascinating clinical
casebook of her individual obsessions and the effects of drugs
on her imagination . . . in the tradition of the great writers
on drug literature, de Quincey, Wilkie Collins, Coleridge.
A testament of remarkable, if feverish beauty.
Robert Nye, Guardian
ANNA KAVAN, née Helen Woods, was born in Cannes
probably in 1901; she was evasive about the facts of
her life and spent her childhood in Europe, the USA
and England. Twice married and divorced, she began writing
while living with her first husband in Burma and was published
under her married name of Helen Ferguson. In the wake of the
collapse of her second marriage, she suffered the first of
many nervous breakdowns and was confined to a clinic in Switzerland;
she emerged from her incarceration with a new name
Anna Kavan, the protagonist of her 1930 novel Let Me Alone
an outwardly different persona and a new literary style.
Her first novel in this guise was Asylum Piece, and
it achieved for her a certain recognition. She was a long-term
heroin addict and suffered periodic bouts of mental illness,
and these facets of her life feature prominently in her novels
and short stories. She died in 1968 of heart failure soon
after the publication of her most celebrated work, the novel