Title: The Little Sleep
Summary:Mark Genevich, a detective mostly in name only, receives a case he doesn’t understand from a person he can’t remember because he was sleeping at the time. He’s a severe narcoleptic with all of the symptoms, including hallucinations, sleep walking, and paralysis. The only clues he has are two scandalous pictures of a girl who looks like the local D.A.’s famous daughter. No matter how Mark looks at it, this isn’t going to be easy. He tries to do the right thing and go straight to the D.A. Then things go very very wrong, very very quickly.
This novel has received heaps of exquisite praise for its take on noir and the crime novel. Tremblay certainly deserves these tributes, but that’s not what I want to discuss. I want to talk about the Mark Genevich. Those of you who have read my previous reviews know that I have an interest in strong, unique narrators. Additionally, ever since I did a critical reading of “The Fall of the House of Usher” in college, I’ve been especially intrigued by novels with unreliable narrators. Mark fits both of these categories to a tee.
Because of his narcolepsy, Mark slips in and out of consciousness throughout the narrative. When he is not actually asleep, Mark is always exhausted and often hallucinating; so as the reader, you cannot trust what Mark is seeing, hearing, or doing. Tremblay accentuates these elements in two particular ways: first, he has Mark tell the story from the first-person perspective so the reader has no one else on whom to rely for information; second, Tremblay’s prose flows over and around the reader with soporific, hypnotic phrases which become especially exaggerated as Mark slips closer to “going under.” Mark’s hallucinations and his resulting confusion keep both him and the reader in a sort of nether-world between dreams and reality. Since we have to struggle along with Mark through this haze, the actual mystery (which would otherwise be rather ordinary) becomes a giant jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing, no picture on the box, and several pieces from other puzzles thrown about for good measure. The whole mish-mash makes for an excellent and challenging read.
Mark is a strong voice, and I very much enjoyed spending the story with him. He is brave against all odds, his sense of humor is sharp, and his life is refreshingly ordinary for a noir detective (aside from his nerological problem). I particularly relished the parts where Mark talks tough to the bad guys, even though he has no clues and they have guns. In a prime example, two goons confront Mark in the garden shed just as he discovers a crucial clue. Mark responds to their unexpected appearance with “If you’re a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses, God isn’t in the shed and I’m a druid” (181). Ha! Lovely stuff!
My only criticism is very mild and really couldn’t be helped. “The Little Sleep” is Tremblay’s first published novel (though he is well-accomplished in shorter writing forms), and the beginning few chapters do suffer a bit from over-expository syndrome because he has to set-up his characters, setting, and the facts about narcolepsy, as well as the initial clues to the mystery. Don’t let this worry you, though. His style soon settles down a bit, and focuses in. Even these initial facts are laid down with careful touches. Indeed, I’m very much looking forward to the sequel that Tremblay promises on the back cover, as he will already have laid the groundwork, so he can jump right into the story.
Overall– if you want a quick, fascinating, and fun mystery, go catch “The Little Sleep” from your local bookshop.
For more on Paul Tremblay, check out his blog and his website: