A Pillow Book by Suzanne Buffam (House of Anansi) contemplates the ordinary object of the pillow as the buffer between internal and external life. Inspired by Sei Shōnagon’s famous Pillow Book, Buffam creates her own series of short reflections of daily life with her husband and young daughter, lists of thematic or alphabetical things (my favourites include Moustaches A to Z, Altered Proverbs and Things That Make My Heart Beat Faster), and odes to the sleep that eludes her.
Weaving through each passage is a pillow: historical pillows, insomnia or dreams spent on pillows, pillows sat on in Japanese restaurants, and the items she finds underneath her daughter’s pillow. Each new pillow marks the text’s restlessness, moving between lists, forms and genres as Buffam observes the muted passing of time; however, instead of measuring out her life in coffee spoons, Buffam counts the pillows that mark her days. Not quite essays, not quite poetry, Buffam’s prose is a quiet and lyrical celebration of the anxieties of life and motherhood.
What I liked most about this book was the struggle of form and content, the internal insomnia of the text that explores the liminal space of the pillow, where the privacy of sleep meets the demands of family life. I’ve returned to this book several times for Buffam’s humorous lists, and expect I’ll be back again for her dreamy stories.
This review first appeared in Geist 102.