Ashdown is a big house on a cliff of England, which used to be a private residence. In the eighties, it was bought by the nearby university to accommodate students. By 1996, it had become a private hospital for people with all kinds of sleep-related troubles.

The odd chapters take place in the eighties. We get acquainted with several characters, such as Sarah, a young narcoleptic woman who decides, one night, to break up with Gregory, a man with an unhealthy obsession and a high opinion of himself. On the same night, Sarah meets Robert, a new student in the house, who soon falls in love with her. But Sarah is more attracted to Veronica, a feminist student of economics…

The even chapters take place in 1996. Terry, a journalist who just completed a movie-watching marathon, is admitted in doctor Dudden’s clinic in Ashdown. He has been going without sleep for days, and Dudden, the typical "mad scientist", is very interested in his case. Dudden’s female colleague, Dr Madison, is very intrigued by a story Terry tells her: how he was for a brief time a student residing in Ashdown, where he became acquainted with Sarah, the narcoleptic girl whom he has progressively lost touch with after years of friendship…

Soon, the past and present of Ashdown become intricately connected, as strange coincidences and twists of fate are revealed, until the unexpected ending. The novel is very carefully crafted, every thread leading somewhere, leaving no loose end. Many mystery writers should take example on Coe who obviously knows what a good plot is. To say more would probably spoil the surprise of this funny and witty novel. I laughed out loud reading some parts (and this rarely happens to me while reading a book), while other parts were moving. The only reason for the reader to be disappointed by this book is if he or she expects a realistic novel: this is rather a humorous and poetic one. Dreams are one of the main themes of the book, and it reads indeed a bit like a dream, it has all its eccentricities and excesses. I had never read a novel by Coe before, but I intend to look for others. He reminded me a little of David Lodge at his best. I haven’t been so enthusiastic about a book in a while: I highly recommend it!

Rating: 5/5