review by Maryom
"Imagine a world without sleep. A world driven to the brink of exhaustion. A waking nightmare."
We've all had that odd night when, no matter what, we couldn't get to
sleep and know how shattered we'd feel the next day. But imagine a world
where no one can sleep - not just for a single night but ever! That's
the dystopian scenario of Kenneth
Calhoun's debut novel Black Moon. The world has been overcome by insomnia - no one knows how it started or
why but gradually the signs have been spreading and now the majority of
people can no longer sleep. Here and there a lucky few still have to knack of falling soundly asleep - but they quickly learn to disguise this for nothing enrages the sleepless like the sight of someone sleeping! Without sleep, and, as importantly, without dreams, hallucinations take over, all normal behaviour ceases, all concepts of humanity are eroded.
Through this nightmare setting, we follow the stories of a few individuals; Biggs, one of the few sleepers, in search of his insomniac wife Carolyn; Lila, another sleeper, sent to a supposed safe haven by her parents before they themselves lost all sense through lack of sleep; Chase and his friend Jordan who thinks there's money to be made with sleep-inducing drugs stolen from a drug store; and Felicia, Chase's ex-girlfriend, who works at a sleep study centre - maybe somehow the people who've studied lack of sleep for so long can now find a cure for it.
Black Moon is a hard-to-describe novel, a literary-zombie-dystopian mix that takes the reader into a speculative world where the most precious commodity is something we all take for granted - sleep.
I heard about this book through Twitter (in fact it's a Twitter-competition-win) and was intrigued by the concept - what would happen if I couldn't sleep at all? Insomnia is something I've never really suffered from - being kept awake by babies is different, as I'd have been happy to sleep if given the chance - but I've read of sleep deprivation being used as a torture/interrogation technique so the psychological effects must be deeply disturbing. I'm not sure whether the author answered my curiosity in this regard. Although the sufferers are shown wandering zombie-like through the background, the story concentrates on those who haven't quite reached this dreadful state. I think, being too used to encountering this kind of scenario in sci-fi reading, that I'd expected a more cut and dry ending, whether an upbeat 'miracle cure found' or no hope 'we're all doomed' one. Events didn't pan out the way I expected and I was left feeling wrong-footed, as if I'd been missing something all along.
Black Moon is a thought-provoking and intriguing read, even if it doesn't give quick, easy answers to the problems it raises. It's a novel for my re-read pile, this time using hindsight and knowledge of the ending to point me in the right direction.
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Hogarth Press
Genre - adult, dystopian,
Buy Black Moon from Amazon