The Art of Sleeping Alone: Why One French Woman Suddenly Gave Up Sex

Sophie Fontanel, a longstanding editor of French Elle, was 27 when she swore off sex. Rather than point to a traumatic breakup as the cause, Fontanel, now 50, provides an explanation that is vague yet adamant: she was simply tired of them both, and more importantly, tired of the pressure. She'd been "taken and shaken" and her body felt closed off to others. On a skiing holiday alone, she marveled at the wonder of spreading out in a giant bed with no one to harass or implore her. 

The refusal was initially euphoric, giving way to a rich inner life and powerful sense of liberation. Yet the reactions from others ranged from confusion to misguided pity. Only in private meetings would one friend or another confess a certain envy.

The Art of Sleeping Alone is divided into dozens of short vignettes, spread across eight untitled sections. Though they are vaguely chronological, these vignettes are not directly connected. As Fontanel herself is complex and compact, one suspects there is a sort of thoughtful deliberation, a secret logic to the order of her stories.

While the subject is intriguing, Fontanel's charm lies in her quirky, intellectual voice and elegant phrasings. In describing her close friend Henrietta, for example, she writes, "Her perspicacity could not stand being blocked by my boundaries, my calcified impasses." There is a punctuated rhythm to such sentences; one can easily imagine hearing her speak them out loud. --Annie Atherton

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