by Andrew Mason

Rainwolf Press


257pp/$11.99/November 2011

86 Hours in England

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The title of Andrew Mason's novel 86 Hours is England is misleading as it implies that it is going to look at a whirlwind four day journey through the country. However, since the novel's narrator, Sam Thompson, is unreliable in his depiction of events and understanding of what is happening around him, the fact that the title offers the suggestion of a very different book seems appropriate.

Thompson is a student at a small liberal arts college, Harlaxton College, located about 100 miles north of London. The novel documents a strange 86 hours period his life when, for no real reason aside from peer pressure and poor judgment, he decides to see how long he can go without sleep. His enablers in this questionable activity are his roommates, Taylor and Elwood, as well as some of the other male students. The female students, on the other hand, including his pal Lydia Lopez and all of the nursing students, are concerned about his well-being and try to convince him that his sleep deprivation experiment is not only a bad idea, but potentially dangerous. Throughout the entire novel and his experiment, he chases and flirts with Katherine (Kat) Graham, who serves in the role of his manic pixie dream girl who has made it clear that she values him as a friend, not a boyfriend, except when she sends mixed signals.

The novel is divided into the five days Thompson's quest for wakefulness spans, with each chapter subdivided to note how long he has been awake at any given point. His days are spent chasing Kat, drinking, smoking, and taking drugs, with his goal made more achievable when his roommate offers him a stimulant which will help keep him going. Mixed into this hedonistic lifestyle, he occasionally attends classes, completes his assignments, and promises Lydia that he'll be ready for the production of The Taming of the Shrew she is directing in which he has a small part, but which isn't taking place until 78 hours into his marathon. In order to make the novel work, Mason needed to make Thompson likable enough that the reader is willing to follow his misadventures as he fully gives himself over to his "experiment" and makes increasingly poor choices. Fortunately, there is something engaging about the character on the page which may not be there if the character were a real person.

Thompson spends a lot of the novel within his own head, musing on the world around him, thinking about his various friends, and insisting that his drinking, drug use, and lack of sleep are not impacting him negatively. However, the most interesting parts of the novel are when other characters force him to actually see them for who they are, rather than his image of them. The most notable of these are Kat, who opens up to him to explain why she isn't interested in solidifying a relationship with him, and Kat's roommate, Sara, who has a very frank conversation with Thompson. Although he is initially dismissive about what she says, it does stick with him throughout the rest of the novel, even if he never quite seems to understand the full implications of her comments.

In some ways, 86 Hours in England is a depiction into Sam Thompson's gradual descent into madness as his lack of sleep takes its toll on him. The reader, if not Thompson, becomes aware of the consequences of his actions, although the fact that everything is translated through the unreliable Thompson does limit how much the reader can believe any level of the story. An additional, concluding chapter written after Thompson has slept off his experiment, or written by one of the other characters to confirm the reality that Thompson's narrative hints at would give the novel a greater sense of closer and less of a feeling of ambiguity.

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