A Sleeping and a Forgetting : William Dean Howells

I won this book in a giveaway hosted by John Self. I have been following his blog since a long time now and find his reviews insightful. He is one of those readers who doesn’t stop at just ‘I liked it’ or ‘I hated it’, but goes on to tell us what the book is actually about so that we can decide for ourselves whether to read the book or not.

Melville Hose Publishing has come out with a series ‘The Art of the Novella’ in which they aim to publish short fiction or novella – too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story. All the books in the series have the same plain yet attractive cover. These are small, weightless books which can fit into your bag or purse and can keep you engrossed for an hour.

This novella is about a woman who witnesses her mother’s death and is so shocked at the incident that she stays unconscious for a few days and when she wakes up from it, she doesn’t remember the incident. The shock damages her memory and she forgets people, names, faces and incidents. A doctor starts treating her at her father’s request. The rest of the book is about the doctor’s interactions with the patient and this is the best part of the book. I found myself thinking about the exchanges between the doctor and the woman about dreams, reality, memory, character, identity and so on. One particular passage that I found really interesting:

He had always said to himself that there could be no persistence of personality, of character, of identity, of consciousness, except through memory; yet here, to the last implication of temperament, they all persisted. The soul that was passing in its integrity through time without the helps, the crutches, of remembrance by which his own personality supported itself, why should not it pass so through eternity without that loss of identity which was equivalent to annihilation?

The passage might not seem relevant here, but works really well in the book.

I have to sincerely thank John for two things. One, for hosting the giveaway and two, for introducing me to W.D.Howells. If not for the giveaway, I would have never discovered this author. The book was like a treat – short and sweet. It was entertaining as well as thought provoking. If only I could get hold of more books from this series – don’t know how many more gems it holds.

PS: This novella is available online.

One Response to “A Sleeping and a Forgetting : William Dean Howells”

  1. John Self Says:

    I’m delighted you liked the book, anaamica. I love the excerpt you’ve posted, and in fact you make the book sound so tempting that I will have to actually get around to reading my own copy soon!

    Thanks for the great review.

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