Lying Awake

Lying Awake is a captivating novel written by Mark Salzman, published in 2000. Set in a Carmelite monastery in Los Angeles, the story revolves around the life of Sister John of the Cross, a nun who experiences profound and mystical visions that inspire her poetry.

The Plot

Sister John, originally named Catherine, has been a nun at the monastery for over twenty years. She is devoted to her faith and her poetry, dedicating her time to prayer and contemplation. However, her tranquil life is disrupted when she starts having intense and extraordinary visions.

These visions, although breathtakingly beautiful, are also accompanied by excruciating headaches that leave Sister John in pain. Faced with the possibility of having brain surgery to relieve her pain, she must decide between a life of mystical experiences or returning to a more ordinary existence.

The novel explores Sister John’s struggle with her faith and the challenges she faces in deciding between her artistic inspiration and her physical well-being. As she delves deeper into her visions, she questions the authenticity of her religious experiences and wonders if they are mere illusions created by her mind.

Awards, Critics, and Praise

Lying Awake received widespread critical acclaim upon its release. It was highly praised for its lyrical writing style and exploration of faith. The book was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the PEN USA Literary Award.

Many critics noted the delicate balance between spirituality and rationality portrayed in the novel, as well as the depth of character development. Salzman’s vivid descriptions of Sister John’s interior journey were particularly lauded, creating a sense of intimacy between the reader and the protagonist.

Readers and literary enthusiasts embraced Lying Awake for its profound exploration of the nature of spirituality and the sacrifices one makes for their beliefs. The novel resonated with individuals interested in the intersection of art, religion, and personal fulfillment.

Important Characters

1. Sister John of the Cross (Catherine) – The main protagonist, a nun who experiences mystical visions.

2. Mother Miriam – The prioress of the Carmelite monastery and Sister John’s superior.

3. Sister Philomena – A fellow nun who provides support and companionship to Sister John.

4. Dr. Guzman – Sister John’s neurologist, who offers medical advice regarding her debilitating headaches.

Overall, Lying Awake is a thought-provoking and introspective novel that delves into the complexities of faith, art, and personal identity. With its evocative and lyrical prose, it invites readers into a world of spiritual contemplation, leaving them captivated by Sister John’s journey of self-discovery.

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