Benjamin’s impassioned and elegant memoir is not just an intimate account of a disorder for which there is still no straightforward cure, but a defiant celebration of its paradoxical potential ... Fittingly for a meditation on a disrupted process, her method is fragmentary, hurtling from thought to thought ... Her key idea, approached via detours into history, philosophy and art, is that the inability to sleep is not just a symptom of an underlying pathology, but an existential experience that can give us fresh insights into the nature of creativity and love ... This provocative, at times anguished book has by the end completely overthrown our expectations by repositioning insomnia as a form of resistance, linked to the author’s own freedom to create. We want her to get some sleep, but even more than that, we want her to go on writing.
Marina Benjamin, a memoirist and an editor at Aeon magazine, has produced an insomniac’s ideal sleep aid—and that’s a compliment ... For sleepless readers familiar with the feeling of being trapped in anxious ruts, Benjamin’s celebration of mind wandering as 'fleet and light and connective' may at times sound strained. But if her roaming induces fatigue now and then, her 'border-crossing bravery' and curiosity prove highly contagious. Either way, her slim book is what the doctor ordered.
This would be a terrible thing to say about most books but, in this case, it might actually be a compliment: I kept falling asleep reading Marina Benjamin's Insomnia. I wasn't so much bored as somehow soothed by her velvety ruminations on night wakefulness, which run on, unbroken by chapters, with lots of airy white space between paragraphs. Awash in the comfort of a kindred soul, I relaxed enough to be lulled into sleep ... Benjamin's book is more impressionistic than scientific: Don't look here for an explanation of the chemistry or biology of nocturnal wakefulness.
Marina Benjamin’s intense, vagrant, and personal book Insomnia is a timely arrival. But unlike the pop-science studies of sleep professionals...Insomnia wants to know what we might learn from our failure to sleep, from 'lurid nights' and 'enervating mania' ... Benjamin’s book is richly stocked with literary references to lack of sleep, its pains and occasional pleasures ... Her prose is written in sharp poetic fragments, and resembles in places the mordant aphorisms of E. M. Cioran, the Romanian philosopher who was reputed not to have slept for fifty years ... Benjamin has written a book that attempts stylistically to sound like its subject: fragmented, digressive, at times delirious ... This might be less, or more, than the sleepless reader wishes to hear. Benjamin’s approach to her subject is deliberately at odds with the current popular literature on sleep and its discontents ... It might keep you awake, but in solacing and inquiring company.
[Insomnia is] at once both beautiful and unsettling ... The skittish quality leads to moments of stunning poetry, suddenly interrupted by passages of fevered introspection ... But questions are left unresolved. It feels unsatisfactory. Much like a night spent tossing and turning, in fact. You are left desperately craving resolution. Which turns out to be the point ... In many ways she has produced a love letter to an affliction she is trying to understand.
... a svelte work of nonfiction that bridges memoir and the history of sleeplessness ... a wild ride through mythology, science and art ... These ideas and meditations often slip away from the reader before they’re fully-formed, as though Benjamin’s prose, itself sleepless, can’t hold on to one thought for too long before another is conjured. But the writing itself is so luminous that you hardly notice ... [Benjamin's writing can feel] effortless as a sleeping dog, [as it] carries you through Insomnia, the kind of book for those late hours of the night, keeping you company when you’re most alone.
This fitful, dreamy little book certainly feels like a thing of the small hours ... it is a patchwork of musings, quotations and impressions with no particular narrative and definitely no conclusion ... In some 130 pages of prose, purple as the first light of dawn, Benjamin takes us deep into the anxious mind of a cosmopolitan, literary, sleepless woman. It’s sometimes exhilarating, sometimes exhausting ... We toss and turn alongside her, wondering what exactly this book is for ... despite bursts of pretty writing and the odd glimmer of humour (hard to do, I know, when you’re really tired), it falls somewhat short ... Mostly, Benjamin ends up doing what everyone suffering from a chronic problem does: trying out far-fetched metaphors and similes to describe just how awful, special and weird her situation is ... It would be a shame for Benjamin if this well-intentioned but underwhelming philosophical excursion into the night is destined only to be bought as a gift book for people who are always banging on about not being able to sleep, but that, alas, is probably its fate.
Benjamin's...account of how the sleepless mind wanders, free-associates, roams and transgresses is mimicked by the form of this book with its episodic fragments of reflection and trains of meandering thoughts on literature, poetry, philosophy and love. While lack of sleep might render her daytime self sluggish and vague, her experience of insomnia is 'turbo-charged' ... Insomnia is not an island you'd want to be shipwrecked on but it's definitely worth an armchair visit.
Marina Benjamin sets out in Insomnia to query her own sleepless condition from multiple perspectives: mythic, scientific, historic and literary, but most notably through personal experience ... As the book unfolds, Benjamin weaves together insomnia’s origins and implications. Drawing from various disciplines, she traces insomnia’s roots in myth to contemporary psychology ... Insomnia is ultimately a book about the contradictions that permeate our natures. Having enjoyed it and been edified, I will look differently upon a sleepless night and will invite the light that stubbornly refuses to diminish while illuminating the darkness.