An extraordinary story told

Some books compel me to talk about them, others drive me to a corner to think and others force me to share them. The book I am reading is all of the above and yet I am so reluctant to enthusiastically share it. Let me explain.

‘Insomniac City’ by Bill Hayes, is beautifully written, and incredibly insightful. It also contains some fascinating stories about intersecting intellects, which I find simply compelling. It is however completely frank and written by an openly gay man, and some of the bits in it may shock some people. So perhaps it needs to come with a warning of some sort, I’m unsure.

Bill Hayes was Oliver Sacks lover and writes beautifully about their relationship and particularly beautifully and respectfully about Oliver Sacks. “O” as he is called, you may know from his books on matters of science. Generally regarded as one of the great modern minds, O is described in intimate detail as is the crazy city of New York. It is a wonderfully curated bunch of insights and observations many of which were direct diary notes.

Bill is often self-deprecating, and yet never makes the reader feel sorry for him other than for his loss. O on the other hand is funny, other-worldly and so unused to the love of another his enthusiasm is awkwardly contagious. I loved every page.

It is not often I need to have a pen and paper next to me while reading, but Bill Hayes has such a wonderful turn of phrase and captures so many of O’s random ideas and thoughts, I have filled several pages of my own jotting them down. He also captures a range of gentle vignettes from his meanderings around New York, stories that he paints with great richness and keenness of eye.

I am not yet finished reading this lovely book, which is rare for me, as I would tend to race through well written novels. I am taking my time for two reasons. I’m pretty sure the last bit of the book is going to be about O’s death, and that is probably going to make me cry and partly because I am only reading this late at night, because it is such an intimate life account.

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