Nauseated by his own helplessness, struck by a creeping lethargy, Stuart tumbles through a tumultuous week of excess, promiscuity, deception, cowardice, and regret, and in the process manages to trade his slick perfection for a fantastic, and darkly hilarious, catastrophe.
A deadpan comedy about the rather unfunny void in the center of many modern lives, Sleepwalker explores how our trying to fill that void can be just as destructive as ignoring it, and how the world will always let the beautiful get away with murder.
About the Author
John Toomey was born in 1975 in Dublin, where he now teaches English at Clonkeen College. Sleepwalker is his first novel. Further information, including an extract from his forthcoming novel and some of his short stories, can be read on his website www.johntoomeybooks.com
Reviews of SLEEPWALKER (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010)
From Metro Éireann, April 2011
"I had been putting off the reading of this book for some time now...But if I had I would have missed the gem that is Sleepwalker...John Toomey does a good job of fleshing out the skeleton of the story – the apathy and disillusionment of modern life that has produced a pedestrian populace, materialistically gluttonous. It’s a generation for whom life has no meaning...Even in the face of achievements, they still harbour what Toomey calls a “vague feeling of potential unrealised”. The message that Toomey hammers out is that only self-determination and a strong moral fibre can break this deception...The author is a teacher of English – that accounts for the very erudite language in the text, which can be difficult at times, but mostly apt as it’s employed unflinchingly to skewer the pretensions of the modern world and express its didactic message. This is assisted by a finely aligned story and an array of characters who execute the job with aplomb...Having had the benefit of reading Sleepwalker, I’d say that most of us must be awake and very alert, otherwise we’ll fail to learn from history like Stuart does."
By Shelley Marsden, The Irish World, February 2011
“An intuitive, witty and leftfield debut that really captures turn of the century Dublin...Sleepwalker – funny and disturbing in equal measure - centres on the life of Stuart Byrne, a young, good-looking businessman who finds his perfect life sabotaged by a growing awareness of the superficiality of his entire existence... (he) manages to trade in his slick perfection for a fantastic, darkly hilarious disaster...Toomey’s sharp, skilful novel is a deadpan comedy...a deeply intimate, soul-searching book about a person who can’t cope with intimacy at all.”
By Glenn Harper, International Noir Fiction, January 2011
“...Sleepwalker, by John Toomey, is a comic portrait of an Ireland just poised on the brink of the boom going bust...The writer plays comically with fictional structures like the famous "unreliable narrator," and one of the comic turns concerns the narrator’s intrusions into the story...
...Sleepwalker...is a funny book...and a cold, hard look at a culture on the brink of a disaster. It's published in the U.S. by Dalkey Archive Press, which has a particular interest in comic and off-center fiction around the world.”
In Irish American Magazine, December/January 2011
"John Toomey’s debut novel, Sleepwalker, is a fable of spiritual decay and its emotional toll, a send-up of those coming into adulthood at a particular generational and socioeconomic point that offered them the life of their dreams, and their crushing disappointment when they come face-to-face with the lack of imagination that keeps them from doing so. Sleepwalker is told by a bland yet unforgivingly observant narrator, documenting the downward spiral of antihero Stuart Byrne. Paralyzed with apathy, Stuart handles his successful if mind-numbing career and a series of events in his love life – ranging from an unexpected pregnancy to confronting his “platonic” relationship with his best friend, Rachel – with exponential ineptitude and helplessness. It is a feat of Toomey’s spot-on black humor and emotional generosity that the superficial and selfish Stuart is neither despicable or pitiable, but deeply familiar."
In Midwest Book Review, November 2010
"When you let apathy take control, apathy can take you on quite the ride. Sleepwalker tells the story of Stuart Byrne and his dissatisfaction with life, and the adventures he faces in trying to fill that emptyness that is taking apart his soul. One of the beautiful people, he finds that good looks are more than just a perk; they're quite the advantage in society. Thoughtful and humorous, Sleepwalker is quite the read, very highly recommended."
By Catherine Taylor, The Guardian, December 2010
“A catastrophic week in the life of Stuart Byrne, "uncurious slave to contented indifference", unfolds with comic mock-horror in Toomey's stylish cautionary tale...Then a real, grown-up problem is sprung on him, and Stuart takes refuge in drink, forgetfulness, promiscuity – all propelled by a refusal to engage in the irritating complexities of adulthood. Eventually, even the brisk prose and author's evident fondness for his wayward hero cannot save him from a messy conclusion.”
By Rebecca Oppenheimer, a National Book Critics' Circle member, in Howard County Times, December 2010
“In the opening pages of John Toomey's Sleepwalker, Stuart Byrne awakens in a friend's guest room with a woman whose name he doesn't know. This is not a terribly unusual situation for Stuart, who seeks to remedy the emptiness of his life with binge drinking and casual sex...Sleepwalker is, by turns, funny and heartrending. It is a bleak, finely drawn portrait of not entirely unjustified youthful ennui.”
By Lonesome Quill, Levine Copywriting: The Blog, November 2010
“…Toomey is great: adept with words, crafting sharp little sentences that carry a surprising amount of emotional heft. His protagonist, Stuart, would be an oaf to know, but on the page he’s compelling and appealing. And Toomey plays a neat little trick of writing an intimate book about someone who can’t handle intimacy…”
In Books Ireland (No. 325), November 2010
"...The book might be described as an existential comedy as it follows one man’s attempts to come to terms with the vacuity of his existence. Told in a tragicomic style, all the action takes place in one week as young businessman Stuart Byrne suffers an emotional and mental breakdown. He attempts to fill the void in his life mostly through sensual indulgence which takes him on a downward spiral of self-destruction. Of course the destruction is accompanied by self-discovery as Byrne comes to grips with his own reality..."
From Twat Bubble, Blog, December 2010
“The Dalkey Archive published some of the most interesting fiction of the year. In ‘Dolly’, by Orly Castel-Bloom...the resulting satire is as grotesque as it is hilarious. John Toomey’s, Sleepwalker, invaded and occupied similar territory – the Patrick Bateman styled protagonist lurching from one barely concealed catastrophe to another...”
By Kara Rota, Culture Pop, Irish Central, September 2010
“John Toomey's debut novel, (is) about an attractive young guy, Stuart Byrne, who becomes suddenly sickened by his own shallowness and spiritual decay and dives headfirst into some dark attempts to fill the void...Toomey has a strong literary voice, hilarious and also heartbreaking, and I can see why Colum McCann has hailed Sleepwalker as “funny, smart, and intuitive.””
You can read an article written by John Waters about John Toomey and Sleepwalker, and contemporary Irish Fiction, from The Irish Catholic (see page 6) by clicking this link:
By Patrick Skene Catling (Author and journalist), January 2008
“The eponymous antihero of Sleepwalker is revealed first in a strange bed with a hangover and a girl whose name he can’t remember. At the age of twenty-five, he is a new breed, middle-class Dubliner – charming, well-paid in a boring job with a company car, and entirely devoid of any loyalty and responsibility, even to himself. The second son of an affluent, dysfunctional family, he clearly doesn’t like his father, a materialistic solicitor, or his ludicrously snobbish mother, and they don’t like each other.
In this energetically entertaining first novel, John Toomey portrays the ‘somnambulisitic passivity’ of Stuart, Stuey, Stu with malicious glee. The story develops beyond an ordinary promiscuous pub-crawl. In a mere five days, everything collapses, family, career and love. Once, before spending a summer in London, he imagined the experience would be like Alfie meets Austin Powers, but the squalor was disillusioning. In post-modern interventions, the ‘narrator’, beyond the author’s control, assumes an active role and attempts to awaken the sleepwalker to reality. This ingenious complexity adds considerable fresh interest to the novel, and seems to promise a sequel.”
By Anne Sexton, Hot Press , July 2008
“Sleepwalker, the first novel by Irish writer John Toomey, follows twenty-five year old Stuart over the course of five summer days in Dublin. Stuart is a typically work hard, play hard Celtic Tiger cub – fond of drinking, casual sex and conspicuous consumerism. After a one-night stand with a college acquaintance he actively dislikes results in a pregnancy scare, Stuart goes into freefall. He can’t face work, he self-medicates and although he is dissatisfied with life, he can’t articulate the how and why of his disaffection. Sleepwalker deals with the problems of a generation “caught between excess and emptiness” and questions the meaning of life in age with no gods, no faith or vocations. At times Toomey is a bit heavy-handed, as if he’s afraid we’ll miss the message, but despite this Sleepwalker is an engaging read as well as a timely work of fiction. The party’s over; welcome to the hangover.”
By Sarah Brazil, Irish Mail on Sunday , August 17th, 2008
"Stuart has it all. He’s young, attractive, he’s got the job, the apartment, the car, and the perfect girl – if he wants her, that is. Yet something is not quite right. For all his success, there is an emptiness he cannot explain. And his serial bed-hopping haunts him as a sign of his inability to commit.
Set in an affluent modern Dublin, Sleepwalker focuses on grown-up Celtic cubs – a generation of self-indulgent brats like Stuart. He is unable to handle reality on any meaningful level. For example, one of his brief drunken trysts with an old college friend, Jenny, results in an unwanted pregnancy. His answer is to continuously evade her and the ‘problem’. His reluctance to handle this and every other situation is consistently frustrating, as is his self-indulgent lethargy.
Having fallen into the trap of equating possessions with happiness, he begins to question the values of the consumerist society he has thrived in. His salvation lies in his interaction with a holy trinity of characters who are his complete opposite – his brother Eoin, a hapless dreamer; Eamonn Quigley, an anti-establishment student, and Dave, a former friend who rejects technology and its unrelenting intrusion on life. Through them, he begins to understand his dissatisfaction and sees hope for redemption.
John Toomey has produced an excellent first novel that brilliantly captures the disaffection of a culture engulfed in consumerism. His cutting view of modern Dublin and the awkward, meaningless relationships his characters develop really hits a nerve. Definitely a name to watch."
In Western People, October 15th 2008
"What happens when you have everything you want? It’s a question a lot of young Irish people have been asking themselves in recent years as they luxuriate in the materialistic ‘paradise’ of the Celtic Tiger (or at least that was the case up to a few weeks ago!). They are the generation who have it all - well-paid jobs, foreign holidays and palatial homes. But - and here’s the million euro, age-old question - are they happy?
That complex question is at the heart of John Toomey’s Sleepwalker, a novel that attempts to probe into the ugly underbelly of a remarkable era in Irish history.
For a period that has been discussed and analysed ad nauseam in the print and broadcast media, the Celtic Tiger has yet to become a serious subject for Ireland’s literary circle. The fact that there is a dearth of talented young writers in the country may have something to do with that anomaly, but it is deeply disappointing that there have been only a handful of novels to date that have attempted to get to the heart of the ‘new’ Ireland.
Toomey, a schoolteacher who was born in 1975, is undoubtedly a child of the Celtic Tiger and he brings his own unique analysis of the period to the pages of Sleepwalker. The protagonist in the novel is Stuart Byrne, a 20-something executive who is blessed with good looks and a great job. When he is not working the marketing department of the ever-expanding firm in which he is employed, he is partying the night away in one of Dublin’s many fashionable hostelries. Stuart is the epitome of the new, self-confident Ireland.
Yet when the novel opens Stuart is about to embark on a week that will change his life forever. He has been struck down by an inexplicable lethargy that has made him question everything he has achieved in recent years. The fat salary, the company car, the beautiful women are no longer enough to keep Stuart Byrne satisfied with life. He is looking for something else and it is not to be found in the Dublin which he inhabits.
Sleepwalker is one of the first novels to capture turn-of-the-century Ireland in all of its sordid glory. Stuart Byrne is not a particularly empathetic character but then there aren’t too many high-flying marketing executives who provoke feelings of empathy amongst the plain burghers.
In many respects, John Toomey has created a character who is not a million miles away from Bret Easton Ellis’ unforgettable stockbroker, Patrick Bateman, in American Psycho. Stuart may be wholly lacking in psychopathic tendencies but he is a brash, egotistical nihilist and his spectacular demise over the course of a tumultuous week is not entirely surprising.
John Toomey has produced the first compelling novel in the Celtic Tiger genre. Let’s hope there are lots more to follow - after all, it is too good of a theme for our writers to ignore."