(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Sleepless Nights is a highly lyrical novel written in a poetic prose that seeks to capture in its fleeting images and disconnected vignettes places, people, feelings, and occasions of personal and observed tragedy lost in time but resurrected through the persistent power of memory. The synthesis of confessional narrative and the epistolary tradition is the principal organizational characteristic of the novel. Hardwick intentionally juxtaposes temporal and spatial displacements as a means to approximate the authentic, “felt” process of human memory.

As a variation on the confessional narration, it is comparable to other examples of the genre: Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1971) or Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (1962). In all these works, the search for identity through a probing self-analysis is central. In accord with the conventions of the genre, there is an attempt to control the experience of inner chaos by holding a mirror up to the self in the act of writing. Alienation (or loss of self) and the anguish that accompanies it are the principal sources of the emotional conflicts that compel the narrator to write, “to confess.”

Hardwick’s consistent deviation from narrative chronology emphasizes the complex principles of growth that are involved in the search for self-perception and understanding. The letters to M. (eventually identified as “Mama,” although quite possibly also Hardwick’s fellow writer and friend Mary McCarthy, to whom the book is partially dedicated) gradually reveal with a minimum of explicit statement an awareness in the narrator...

(The entire section is 664 words.)