Anna Kavan’s Nocturnal Language


Anna Kavan


Anna Kavan is a truly unique figure in English Literature. Her fiction  is a combination of the styles of Djuna Barnes, Virginia Woolf, Anaïs Nin and Franz Kafka.

Kavan was admired by her contemporaries: Anais Nin was a great admirer of her work. In his introduction to Kavan’s My Madness: Selected Writings, Brian Aldiss described Kavan as ‘Kafka’s sister’. 

And Kavan’s fiction bears a strong resemblance to the works of Franz Kafka’s and the works of J.G. Ballard in several ways; notably the detached prose style that approaches being a ‘nocturnal language’; her preoccupation with the symbols of dreams and addiction and her obvious willingness to use the medical terminology of mental confusion, psychosis and alienation in her prose.

Anna Kavan’s best books are: A Horse’s Tale; Ice; Guilty; Sleep Has His House; My Soul in China and Who Are You?  Her other books are also wonderful. Her novels are like no other novels in existence; her short stories are surreal and haunting.



Anna Kavan: Self-portrait


Here is a list of Anna Kavan’s books:


Asylum Piece (1940)

Change The Name (1941)

I Am Lazarus (1945)

Sleep Has His House (1948)

The Horse’s Tale (with K. T. Bluth) (1949)

A Scarcity of Love (1956)

Eagle’s Nest (1957)

A Bright Green Field and Other Stories (1958)

Who Are You? (1963)

Ice (1967)

Julia and the Bazooka (1970)

My Soul in China (1975)

My Madness: Selected Writings (1990)

Mercury (1994)

The Parson (1995)

Guilty (2007)


Here is the Wikipedia entry for Anna Kavan:


Here is the Anna Kavan Society website:


Here is Anna Kavan’s page:


Here is R J Dent’s  short video on the books of Anna Kavan:


If you do decide to read Anna Kavan, it might be best to start with Ice or Guilty or Who Are You? and then move on to reading the others. You won’t be disappointed. But you will find yourself alone in a strange landscape with no recognisable landmarks. Enjoy the experience.


Anna Kavan’s Nocturnal Language


© R J Dent (2015)








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5 Responses to “Anna Kavan’s Nocturnal Language”

  1. amotz Says:


    I’m a journalist from Israel, desperately and urgently looking for the source of this Anna Kavan photo on this page.
    Any chance you know the source?
    I can be reached by the mail above or on phone +972-3-5632502
    Thanks and best regards

  2. Pascale Petit Says:

    Thanks for posting this. Anna Kavan was a huge influence on my own early work, particularly Ice. It’s good to know someone else thinks she’s very special.



  3. Alexandra Felton Says:

    Hi – I really like AK’s work and often find I’m in a minority. It’s hard to find good stuff about her, so thanks for this. I don’t know a single person who’s read any of her books.

  4. Tom Allen Says:

    This is really good info on Anna Kavan. I like your short library film on her books too. You’ve got a great set of books.

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