Sleep is Now a Foreign Country: Encounters With the Uncanny by Mike Barnes

In 1977, the then 22-year-old Mike Barnes had his first psychotic break and spent time as a patient in a mental health ward. He does not remember this time, nor does he remember some events that follow, time stretching in confusing ways to him, his mind trying to distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t. Sleep Is Now a Foreign Country is Barnes’ exploration of mental health, psychosis, and how later breaks contribute to how he interacts with the world. The narrative here is winding and confusing, moving from time periods and states. Barnes uses this structure to great effect, plunging you into madness with him.

Trying to review Sleep is Now a Foreign Country is a challenge, because it’s such a deeply personal journey of mental health, and because it requires so much more thought that I can give in a review. I can tell you it was unsettling – being with Barnes as he describes the gaps in his memory or the ways he tries to work with his mind. I can tell you it made me ponder my thoughts and memories and the way I’ve processed or stored memories. I can tell you that the way Barnes sketches out the different parts of this memoir is true art, mixing different styles depending on what part of his story he’s telling. I can tell you that Barnes has created a unique memoir here, sorting through the discomfort of being out of sync with the world around you and your own mind. But even though I have told you all of these things, I don’t feel like it quite encompasses the experience of reading Sleep is Now a Foreign Country. You simply have to go read it, because Barnes has packed so much inside these pages.

The title is part of the final line of the memoir, and it ties all of Barnes’ musings together perfectly: examining how he’s forever changed, as well as the many-layers of this slim memoir. It’s a difficult but rewarding read, and the artistry in his words is worth reading this book and taking the time to sit with Barnes’ experiences.


Mike Barnes is the author of twelve books of poetry, short fiction, novels, and memoir. He has won the Danuta Gleed Award and a National Magazine Award Silver Medal for his short fiction, and the Edna Staebler Award for his photo-and-text essay “Asylum Walk.” His most recent book of nonfiction, Be With: Letters to a Caregiver, was a finalist for the City of Toronto Book Award and has been praised by Margaret Atwood as “Timely, lyrical, tough, accurate.” He lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Biblioasis (Nov. 14 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 112 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771965126
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771965125
 -- Website

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.