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Sleep Has His House

Anna Kavan

A largely autobiographical account of an unhappy childhood, Sleep Has His House startled with its strangeness in 1948. Today it is one of Anna Kavan’s most acclaimed books.

A daring synthesis of memoir and surrealist experimentation, Sleep Has His House charts chronologically the stages of the subject’s 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.’ — The Times

‘Anna Kavan’s ‘night-time language’ is in no way obscure: on the contrary, her dreams are as carefully notated as paintings by Dalí or de Chirico.’ — New Statesman

‘Her dramas are haunted by a tall woman in black — her mother. There is also a revealing passage of an addict’s 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.’ — Daily Telegraph

‘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 Ice.