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This was a beautiful book – for the writing, the observations, the people and the photographs. Quite short, and very sweet.

Memoirs, not surprisingly, are usually all about the writer, but this moving book turns the tables.

Insomniac City is written largely as an observer – someone who pays close attention and notices and loves.

His first subject is the insomniac city itself – New York. Hayes arrives there after the death of his lover, needing a new start.

The second subject is the man he falls in love with when he moves to that city, the acclaimed neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks, perhaps best known for Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

Hayes and Sacks’s relationship begins almost accidentally. Sacks writes to Hayes, complimenting him on one of his books. When Hayes responds, they get into the habit of writing – Hayes from San Francisco and Sacks from New York.

When they meet, they discover they have more in common than both being insomniacs, and a late-blossoming love affair begins.

The portrait of the man that emerges is every bit the sweet genius any reader of Sacks’s books would recognize.  It’s a gentle, loving and deeply intimate view of a remarkable man.

Until they met, Sacks had mostly hidden his homosexuality and been celibate for decades.

The delight he takes in the relationship is almost heartbreaking, given how few years they have together before Sacks dies of cancer in 2015.

The book is a collection of Hayes’s diary entries, short essays, poems and photographs, sometimes focused on “O”, and sometimes on New York – on the people he meets on the streets and the subway, and photographs, and scenes that touch him.

This book was published in February 2017. The review appeared in the Herald Sun Weekend magazine. 

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