The Castle of Dreams
This enlightening, entertaining, and intriguing novel begins as a story within a story—or a story within a trunk. A Frenchman—our narrator, presumably the author Michel Jouvet, or a literary version of himself—buys an antique chest with brass fittings, labeled with the initials HLS and a partially worn-away date, "178-." Happy to have such a handsome piece for his hallway, the narrator is surprised to find within it bundles of ancient papers tied with string. He has discovered the dream journals, experiments, and correspondence of eighteenth-century amateur scientist Hugues la Scève. With Jouvet, a recognized authority on sleep and dream research, as our guide, we follow la Scève's quest to unlock the mystery of dreams.
In his chateau and elsewhere, la Scève undertakes a series of complex and often comic experiments: he records his own dreams and speculates on their relation to waking life; he studies sleeping cats, rabbits, and other animals (and observes rapid eye movement almost two centuries before modern science discovers it); he records the sleep and dream experiences of a Swiss soldier and a pair of Siamese twins. And, because sleep and dreams are often in close proximity to the erotic, he considers the relation of dreaming and sexual activity, heroically undertaking first-hand research with various women (with the notable exception of his wife).
La Scève's fantastic experiments and discoveries have a solid scientific basis: Jouvet has transposed some of his own cutting-edge research to the context of the eighteenth century—when scientific knowledge was more limited, but the joy of scientific study was more widespread. La Scève's experiments are a testament to the power of scientific observation. The tale that Jouvet discovered buried in the old chest could have been true.
About the Author
Michel Jouvet, a pioneer in sleep research, is Emeritus Professor of Experimental Medicine at the University of Lyon, France. He is a member of the French Academy of Sciences and holds the Gold Medal of the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique). He is the author of The Paradox of Sleep: The Story of Dreaming (MIT Press).
"... la Sceve's passion for science is contagious and at time achingly funny.", Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review
"The book brings to life a time when the yoke of irrational faith was being lifted, opening up seemingly endless opportunity for discovery."—Publisher's Weekly
"Does art mirror science? Or does art (and artists) anticipate future scientific progress? Michel Jouvet's playful gem of a novel answers both ways. In doing so, he entices lay readers with the forays of the novel's protagonist into the world of sleep and dreaming; at the same time, scientists will marvel at Jouvet's fictional yet technically accurate account of these mysterious states of consciousness. Renowned sleep scientist Michel Jouvet unerringly finds his novelist's voice in The Castle of Dreams. A splendid, entertaining book!"
—Raja Parasuraman, author of The Attentive Brain
"In a vivid historical setting devoid of lab coats and high technology, Jouvet demonstrates that scientific discovery is the love child of relentless curiosity, a seed that can flower at any time, in any mind."
—Dan Lloyd, author of Radiant Cool