The morning I begin to read Insomnia, a darkly thrilling beauty of a book, the sky turns a duckblue albumen. Domestic hush and personal restlessness coexist. This tension of dualities recurs within Marina Benjamin’s philosophical and poetic reckoning with the state of insomnia.
I am not a fellow sufferer. There was a mere dalliance with insomnia after the birth of my children, stayed by drugs prescribed by a vigilant obstetrician. Some nights are pockmarked with sleeplessness, including a handful during the reading of this book.
Sleeplessness, according to Benjamin, was termed agrypnoctic by the Ancient Greeks. Its roots lie in the words ‘wakeful’, ‘to pursue’, and ‘sleep’, while insomnia, its habitual, insistent state, emerges from the Latin word insomnis. She describes it as ‘involv[ing] the active pursuit of sleep. It is a state of longing.’ The writer’s textual self-portrait is of ‘a black hole, void of substance, greedy with yearning’. ‘Love, longing and insomnia’ may well be an alternative title to this book.