josefine klougart

One of Us Is Sleeping by Josefine KlougartThe biggest problem with Josefine Klougart’s One of Us Is Sleeping is that the one asleep is probably the reader.

Even a stream of consciousness novel, which is what this is supposed to be, is supposed to go somewhere – and leave the reader with the impression that he has been there and that the journey, however long, was worthwhile.

This novel opens with a section whose title seems an inadvertent forewarning: The Light Comes Creeping. Alas, so does the storyline, which seems to be a woman’s novel-length reflection during a snowbound Danish winter on a broken romance.

On and on it lurches, in fragmented thoughts and images, till you want to say, “All right, already, I get the picture; the lout broke your heart. Get over it and get on with how it all happened.”

So much for inspiring reader empathy!

Okay, maybe even at this late date there is something rotten in the state of Denmark, and for all we know it is the SOB who left her. But this gal is so self-absorbed it’s a wonder she saw him leave. No problem; he won’t really be missed. The protagonist resolves on page 210 “To enter inside the grief and remain there.” She even adds: “I will insist on being a distressed person within the world.”

Fine. But she’ll have to live with the knowledge that self-absorption just ain’t all that interesting. In fact, maybe that’s why you-know-who is now her used-to-be.

One suspects that the author forgot that even in a stream of consciousness novel, the story’s the thing. An interior monologue is a wonderful literary device depicting the thoughts and feelings that pass through the mind, but, like every other element of fiction writing, it is supposed to advance a story, not get stuck in egocentric maundering—and certainly not stray into a bog of self-pity.

In Ulysses, perhaps the best known of this kind of novel, author James Joyce takes the reader on a virtual walking tour of the Dublin, Ireland, of 1904. The story is alive with the sights and sounds of the world in which the protagonist, a middle-aged Jew, lives as while out for a walk he reflects on his youth. The reader comes away feeling that he has been on a fascinating municipal voyage with a very entertaining guide.

Another well-known example of the stream of consciousness novel is Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, whose titular protagonist goes out one day in London to buy flowers for a party she is hosting.

As she goes, her thoughts introduce the reader to a complex and interesting character, one whose thoughts are not exclusively about herself, but about the society in which she lives and about the people she meets and those she knows. This weaves together for the reader the protagonist’s inner and outer reality, shedding light on the story, not just on the protagonist’s state of mind.

Both Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway are on Time’s list of the best 100 books published since 1923. They should be required reading for the author of One of Us Is Sleeping.

(Publisher: Open Letter; pages 228; pub. date: 7/12/2016; translation by Martin Aitken; ISBN 978-1940953373)

Robert Lamb

Robert Lamb

I grew up in Augusta, Ga., where I attended Boys' Catholic High. After a stint in the Navy, I attended the University of Georgia, majoring in English (Class of '61). I began my (wholly unexpected) journalism career on the old Augusta Herald, an evening paper, and went to work for The Constitution in, I think, 1976. I left in Sept. '82 to write The Great American Novel. That goal has proved remarkably elusive, but my first attempt (Striking Out, in 1991) was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award and my second (Atlanta Blues, in 2004) contended for an Edgar Award. My latest novel won no honors but might well get me nominated for a hanging. Titled A Majority of One, it is about a clash between religion and the Constitution over book-banning in a small Georgia town. I've also published a collection of short stories and poems: Six of One, Half Dozen of Another. Before retirement, I taught creative writing and American literature at the University of South Carolina and its Honors College, and feature writing in its School of Journalism. I maintain a now-and-then blog at and I walk my dog on the beach a lot at Pawleys Island, S.C.