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“HISTORY KEEPS ME AWAKE AT NIGHT” Book Review: a fascinating think piece on coincidence, contingency, devotion and purpose

The crux of Christy Edwall’s novel, “History Keeps Me Awake at Night”, is encapsulated in a quote the protagonist refers to suggesting that “investigation should be as experimental and intuitive as it is rational and practical”.

In this sense, it is essential reading for anyone with a passion for journalism, as Edwall takes readers on a deep philosophical and psychological dive into the motions that an investigative journalist might go through whenever they set their sights on uncovering inexplecable or unsolved mysteries.

The narrative focuses on Margit, a former student of art history and journalism, who unexpectedly finds herself compelled to investigate the still-unsolved real-life case of the “forced disappearance” of forty-three students from Ayotzinapa. Her ensuing quest finds her navigating Google Maps, brushing up her rudimentary Spanish with the help of an app, picking the brains of new acquaintances she meets through chance (or are they?) encounters, and even enlisting the services of a psychic. All these efforts, when strung together to provide a bigger picture – no matter how irrelevant and coincidental they may all seem, even to Margit, provide a head-scratching but relatable meditation on the philosophy and psychology of chance, coincidence and contingency.

As Edwall weaves historic facts and culture into the Margit’s journey, often resorting to copious amounts of exposition, bombarding the reading with a flood of information that oftentimes feels somewhat superfluous or irrelevant, the underlying genesis of the novel gradually shines through: Margit’s investigative journalistic hunches and gut instincts are revealed to be analogous to the kinds of intuitions and inspirations that might prompt an author or artist to create a particular piece of work.

The characters are developed exceptionally well, and whenever Edwall turns her attention to Margit’s interactions with the book’s disparate characters, or to flashbacks that come to mind, the writing gains a new level of fascination, emphasising just how different we all are, particularly in the ways in which we are hardwired to read and intuit events in such widely contrasting ways.

And whilst Edwall focuses so extensively on the ins-and-outs of artistic and journalistic circles, the most resonant portions of the book came when all of Margit’s aforementioned intellectual entourage and sheer dedication towards solving the case take her on a journey of self-discovery, as all of Margit’s sleuthing ultimately helps her find her bearings in her immediate surroundings.

Though it took me a little while to settle into this book, given the sheer amount of exposition, once I did find my footing, Edwall delivers a unique and fascinating glimpse into the psyche of a journalist determined to unearth a mystery, albeit with, as she puts it, “blunt spades”, and how, despite her dedication overshadowing everything and everyone around her, all the rabbit holes and cul-de-sacs she explores are anything but dead ends: her quest to try and locate something that has been lost ultimately serves as a means of opening her eyes to the true purpose and meaning of life.

Publisher: Granta Publications // Publishes: February 2, 2023



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