Sarah Sands: Martin Amis – a very good advertisement for sleep

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When truths are revealed by Martin Amis, they should be heeded. Here is an author who has made visionary pronouncements on masculinity, nuclear war and Islamic terrorism. Those who are granted Dalai Lama-style audiences with him feel the frisson of literary enlightenment the moment they cross his varnished oak floorboards and see the view from his light, so light, north London study.

I have never got close to Amis, although I did once instruct a newspaper reporter to hide in the coats cupboard at the author's book launch party, in the hope of catching an aphorism through a crack in the door.

In a very good interview in The Independent on Friday, Amis laid out his next big theme. "Nabokov said the world divides between people who sleep well and people who don't." Amis's forthcoming novel is about "an attack of sleep" he experienced.

Amis's reference to Nabokov is a tried and tested method of elevating whatever follows. You can try it at home. "Nabokov said the decline of the butterfly would be a tragedy for mankind." "Nabokov said: 'Do your homework.'" If sleep is worthy of Nabokov's attention, then it is significant enough for the rest of us. Amis has performed an even greater trick. He has made sleep more glamorous than sleeplessness.

Until now, it has been insomniacs who have grabbed the limelight. Insomnia is a sign of a restless mind, of surging energy, of a wit and creativity that cannot be subdued. Famous insomniacs include Dorothy Parker, F Scott Fitzgerald, Madonna, Henry Porter. The powerful and the modern disdain sleep. Margaret Thatcher did not need more than four hours. The new trendsetting magazine Wired includes a feature on how to train yourself to sleep less.

Remember how George Bush was ridiculed for his ability to sleep like a baby through national catastrophes? People sleep well because they have no imagination. Sleeping is a sign of complacency. Those who have stayed loyal to Gordon Brown are moved by the bags under his eyes and grey skin. He is not asleep on the job.

A talented and highly strung journalist once rebuked my husband for his unshakeable equilibrium and cheerfulness. He told my husband that depression was an expression of intelligence. Similarly, those who sleep well can only do so because of dull, shopping-list minds.

I am very much of the George Bush tendency, so far as sleep is concerned. I regularly go to bed before my children and awake regretfully in the morning. Soon I will be starting a new job that will mean early starts, and am thrilled to think I might be tucked up in the evenings before it is even dark.

So I am grateful to Martin Amis for his new novel about "an attack of sleep". The author says that he slept through a couple of years, 2002 and 2003, and describes it as a physical breakdown. I would have called it laziness.

Amis's sleeping years followed the 9/11 attack in the US and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The conditions were being laid for the most serious financial crisis since the Depression. Old Rip Van Winkle of Regent's Park must have wondered at the changes when he finally pulled back the bed covers.

Yet Amis is a marvellous advertisement for a good night's sleep. He is as clever and entertaining as ever. He has a beautiful wife and beautiful children in a beautiful house. And he writes about the perilous state of the world without losing any sleep over it.



Sarah Sands is editor in chief of British 'Reader's Digest'

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