A largely autobiographical account of an unhappy childhood, Sleep Has his House startled with its strangeness in 1948. Today it is one of Anna Kavan's most acclaimed books. A daring synthesis of memoir and surrealist experimentation, Sleep Has His House charts chrologically the stages of the subject's gradual withdrawal from all interest in and contact with the daylight world of received reality. Brief flashes of daily experience from childhood, adolescence and youth are described in what Kavan terms 'night-time language' - a heightened, decorative prose that frees these events from their gloomy associations. The vel suggests we have all spoken this dialect in childhood and in our dreams, but these thoughts can only be sharpened, or decoded by contemplation in the dark. Anna Kavan maintained that the plot of a book is only the point of departure, beyond which she tries to reveal that side of life which is never seen by the waking eye, but which dreams and drugs can suddenly illuminate. She spent the last ten years of her life literally and metaphorically shutting out the light; the startling discovery of Sleep Has His House is how much these night-time illuminations reveal her joy for the living world.
Anna Kavan was one of the greatest unsung enigmas in 20th-century British literature. Born as Helen Ferguson, who had a fraught childhood and two failed marriages led her to change her name to that of one of her characters. Despite struggling with mental illness and heroin addiction for most of her life, she was still able to write fiction that was as powerful and memorable as any English female writer of the last 150 years.