The Shapeless Unease is a shape-shifting book, moving from quasi-surreal scenes in which Harvey describes the sensation of being awake for nights and days on end, to painful appointments with a GP who is running low on time, resources and sympathy, to enquiries into the roots of her insomnia. It is an unsettling reflection of the things we all lose sleep over.
Watching Samantha Harvey obliterate the advice that’s so often and so smugly offered to the exhausted...is one of the grim pleasures of The Shapeless Unease ... This book seems appropriately messy-haired and wild-eyed ... Anyone who has lain awake the night before a big test will recognize such manic flourishes. Harvey captures the 4 a.m. bloom of magical thinking; stories proliferate within stories ... One feels deranged, reading it, and part of the book’s disturbia may derive from its refusal to stay confined between its own covers ... To read Harvey is to grow spoiled on gorgeous phrases; she’s an author you want to encounter with pencil in hand.
...novelist Samantha Harvey has produced, in The Shapeless Unease, a slim, intense memoir about her own year-long experience of nocturnal unrest ... Interrupted sleep is pretty much the norm for our high-velocity 21st-century life, but the miserable bagginess of days on end faced with no respite of oblivion, however brief, is a torture Harvey describes with a combination of desperation, wry humour and — despite the scarcity she is subjected to — a deeply felt sense of life’s abundance ... As a writer Harvey gets at not just the heart, but the soul of things ... Writing and nature — in particular outdoor swimming, dragonflies skimming over a summer lake — and the realisation that 'no things are fixed', are all conveyed in prose that glows off the page: an exacting inquisition of the self leading to imperfect peace.
Harvey’s memoir of sleeplessness is like a small and well-worn eiderdown quilt: It might not cover everything, but it both cools and warms, lofts and lulls, settling gradually on its inhabitant with an ethereal solidity ... Harvey is a well-regarded novelist in the United Kingdom, and perhaps the only part of this book that feels a little lumpy and uncomfortable is her working out in its pages an O. Henry-like short story about a husband who loses his wedding ring while robbing an A.T.M. More compelled by her predicament, namely stretch after stretch of not only little sleep but no sleep at all, I found it difficult to care about this fictional character, or figure out if his crime and punishment represented anything larger about what disenchanted millennials have taken to describing as 'late-stage capitalism' ... Not for nothing does the author’s own experience take place in 2016...That these events have since been outdone by arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, with its attendant sleep disorders, only amplifies this small volume’s relevance and power ... A year might be a handy if arbitrary length for a memoir or novel, but a sleepless night stretches out like a blank page, the inability to fill it a writhing stasis ... considers science and spirituality but ultimately rests, as it were, on language: its limits, and its possibilities. Harvey appeals to science and spirituality but is most soothed by poetry, by Philip Larkin’s conception of existence as 'the million-petalled flower / Of being here.' If you too are a member of this lonely, late-night club that no one wants to belong to, you will find solace in his words, and hers.