A Dream within a Dream, a Story within a Story

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Sleeping Patterns, J. R. Crook, book reviewWhat is the relationship between the writer and his audience? J. R. Crook’s debut novel investigates this through a group of characters – himself included – living together in student accommodations in London. The main story here centers on an artist Annelie Strandli, known as Grethe to her friends, and a writer Berry Walker. As the book opens, Grethe tells of the death of Crook (fear not, he’s alive and well) and how she received the book – chapter by chapter, and out of order. She also explains why she decided to publish it exactly as she received it. What may be confusing here is that although Crook is a minor character in his own novel, it is Berry who is writing the chapters, and allowing Grethe to find them one at a time (and again, out of order). Yet the overall premise here is that it is Crook who was sending the chapters to Grethe before his death.

But don’t let that confuse you. What we get here is something more akin to a jumbling of 15 journal entries than a straightforward story. However, inside these entries is yet another story – one which tells about “boy one” and how his daydreams as a youth came to shape him as a man. To distinguish the “boy one” story from the rest of the book, these sections have been put in italics. What makes this inclusion even more special is that the “boy one” tale is told completely chronologically. This turns out to be an essential element of the book, holding the mixed-up accounts together like an ever tightening string, and wrapping it all up into a complete package with its conclusion.

In Grethe’s brief introduction to the book, she says: “… it was not until shortly after his death, once the last piece had arrived, that I came to understand what the purpose of his writing had been.” This too is an essential element of the book – and one which could easily be overlooked by the readers. But Crook took this into account, and included it as part of a “boy one” sections to be yet another clue to the essence of his novel. We soon find out that “boy one” is a chronic daydreamer, and the effect that his waking (and sleeping) dreams have on his life become a counterpoint to the sleeplessness of Grethe and Berry. And while these two named characters have no physical relationship, they misunderstand each other just as much as “boy one” learns to understand himself completely.

The title of the book has also been carefully chosen and is perfect for what the readers will find inside. The significance of the title is two-fold. On the one hand – as with the chapters in this book – our sleeping dreams are never straightforward. Things jump around and get jumbled up and confound us regarding their meanings. On the other hand, there’s always something consistent (a pattern, if you will) about our dreams which allows us to know we aren’t awake, and that what we are seeing isn’t reality. This too parallels the two parts of this novel, as well as the accounting of the death of the book’s author, who is actually very much alive.

Just before the book opens, readers will find the dedication page which reads: “Dedicated to the memory of the author”. Through this initially hidden, but obviously intentional double meaning, we can already see that Crook uses language in a most powerful manner. The prose in this book is artfully crafted and grabs the reader’s attention softly but deftly, like a silk glove. The book is relatively short – only around a hundred pages, and is a fairly quick read. But through Crook’s adept use of images and careful descriptions there is a whole lot packed into these 15 pieces. So despite its short length, this isn’t something that the reader can skim through quickly. The only minor thing that bothered me here was that the author insisted in referring to all of the characters by both their first and last names almost consistently throughout the book, and not just the first time they appear. This brought me up short a couple of times but didn’t detract from the overall reading.

In spite of this tiny niggle, and because this book is presented so uniquely and artistically, it would be hard to give this book less than a full five stars out of five. While not everyone will appreciate it, J. R. Crook is an author whose first novel is a piece of true literary fiction which will establish him immediately as outstandingly skillful writer. With Sleeping Patterns, Crook proves he has both the imagination and the bravery to give us something out of the ordinary, and I’m certainly looking forward to his next endeavor.

Sleeping Patterns by J. R. Crook
Published by Legend Press, July 2012
With thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy.

Buy book online
Buy book online Buy book online
Sleeping Patterns
by J. R. Crook

7 Comments on "A Dream within a Dream, a Story within a Story"

  1. Daniel
    03/09/2012 at 10:57 Permalink

    Are you a friend of the novelist? It seems like overpraise for a writer who cannot even seem to be able to put simple sentences together. I read this novel recently and thought it was dreadful because Crook thinks he is Perec. Terrible novel

  2. Daniel
    03/09/2012 at 11:04 Permalink

    I also think it is overly sentimental and apart from his experimenting with the non-linear way of telling the story (which is hardly original), the actual novel is just an inane love story, with poor characters. I alzo think most of Crook’s reviews have been written by his friends. You can tell because of their tone. I think this is the sad thing about the internet – a lot of bogus stuff can appear on the internet. Anyone buying this novel is being conned. No legitimate critic would praise a new novelist as jf he is a new Proust and all the Amazon reviews have that tone.

  3. Davida Chazan
    07/09/2012 at 09:34 Permalink

    Dear Daniel,

    I do not know the author and never even heard of him before I read this book. While I can agree that this book isn’t for everyone, that is exactly what makes it special. If you want simple sentences, you can always read comic books.

  4. Daniel
    09/09/2012 at 11:11 Permalink

    I see your point. I re-read the novel and found it is much better than I originally thought. I therefore request you remove my comments because I think they sound quite silly now.

  5. Daniel
    09/09/2012 at 11:23 Permalink

    Also, I do read comic books and find it is literature of the highest order. I think your assessment of comic books is unfair because, just as novels, they have to have all the ingredients: plot, structure, engaging characters etc. Some comic books are as complex as some great novels so if you wanted to put me down (which is fair, since my comments were a little harsh – I still believe the Amazon reviews were written by his friends, and this is a problem with the internet – it is hard to verify authenticity), I think you ended up disregarding a great art form, which I hope you could give some more attention and serious thought in the future.

  6. Vladimir
    09/09/2012 at 15:15 Permalink

    Hi Daniel, I can remove your comments but there is no need, I think. We are all entitled to have an opinion and the right to change our minds.
    I expect Davida to review a comic book next, in a true curious book fan spirit…


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Written by Davida Chazan