A plague of sleeplessness descends over the majority of the population in this eerie dystopian novel by Kenneth Calhoun. Nobody understands why this suddenly happens although there is speculation that includes a wide range of wild conspiracies. Without the rejuvenating assistance of sleep the majority of population lose all reason and now “the unguarded gate in their heads was now propped wide open to suggestion and persuasion.” Only a handful of people are still able to sleep without assistance. The book follows these few as they navigate the deteriorating social landscape and search for their loved ones lost to the agonizing spell of sleeplessness.
The thriller aspect of “Black Moon” is essentially like a zombie novel. The few unaffected must stagger around pretending to be sleep-deprived in order to avoid detection. If they get caught asleep they are attacked by the perpetually awake masses as they are jealously enraged by the sight of those resting peacefully. There are some creepily brutal scenes involving things like a woman trapped in a tree with a circling angry mob, a man undergoing brain surgery by half-crazed doctors and a truckload of captive sheep being driven by a man with a perpetual erection who is slowly going insane. Yet, unlike a horror genre novel, this book deals with the real-world mysterious interplay between consciousness and unconsciousness.
More than the physical threats of the perpetually awake masses or the body breaking down from lack of rest is the nightmarish terror of losing ones mind and all the fear and unrestrained carnal rage rising to the surface causing people to act totally irrationally. Personality is inverted until each person becomes “the opposite of all that he had been.” Like voices from a Samuel Beckett play, the perpetually awake prattle on and on expressing every core emotion that flits through their head and mixing memories of the past with the present so that time is condensed down to one unfathomable point in reality. This babbling is nonsensical but also lyrical and highlights surprisingly bizarre connections underlying the force of people’s most base motivations.
In one section a couple named Adam and Jorie who have been experiencing sleep deprivation for almost a week continuously lose and find their infant baby. The gripping horror of what must be happening in reality to the child as the couple stagger confusedly through their days is intense. Although, the hallucinatory nature of the narrative as it follows the couple’s interaction with the child keeps you guessing if the child was lost some time ago or if it is even real. When following a character who has stopped sleeping the author changes the style of writing to reflect their increasingly fragmented psychological state. This had a bewitching effect on me as if I was losing grasp of reality too and made the story feel intensely real.
“Black Moon” makes you think about what importance your dream life has with your conscious life. But it doesn't linger ponderously on these questions – merely summons them up in the natural course of the story as the characters struggle to connect with each other and find a solution to the epidemic. This reminded me quite a lot of Jose Saramago novel “Blindness” about a sudden unexplained epidemic where the majority of the population goes blind (seeing white instead of black) and only the central character maintains her vision. These frameworks strip the construct of society down to its elements so that it must be rebuilt upon principles of cooperation or be torn apart by selfishness. It makes for a chilling, unsettling but altogether absorbing read.
See a playlist of songs about sleeping and insomnia that the author created here: http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/archive/2014/03/book_notes_kenn_1.html