22 April 2012

Sleep, Pale Sister - Joanne Harris

This book is a totally different genre to what we know Joanne best for, and so some readers may be shocked to learn that she dabbles in a bit of Gothic ghost stories, or murder, or the Internet. This is the second book she wrote, and while it didn't sell too well initially, I hope it will make a nice comeback soon.

The book blurb reads:
'Henry Chester, a domineering and puritanical Victorian artist, is in search of the perfect model. In nine-year-old Effie he finds her. Ten years later, lovely, childlike and sedated, Effie seems like the idea wife. But something inside is about to awaken. Drawn by her lover, Mose, into a dangerous underworld of intrigue and blackmail, she meets Fanny Miller, the brothel-keeper, and her shadowy daughter, Marta - murdered ten years ago on the day of Henry's weekly visit... And as friendship becomes possession and Henry's secret past is revealed, Effie and Marta plan their revenge together.'

Now, this sounds very interesting to me, but unfortunately the blurb makes the book sound better than it is and gives most of the story to the reader at the same time. I've only quoted it to you because you're bound to read the blurb anyway.

The storyline is pretty interesting, but to me it does take a while for things to get going. The intrigue at the beginning of the novel is really nice though. We get a real sense of Henry as a character. His guilt is palpable, and we only feel sorry for him to begin with, albeit a little weirded out. The story is told well, and is confusing in such a way so that you don't really understand what is going on until she tells you.

The multiple first person narrative can be a bit tricky, but luckily each character has a specific personality so usually you can figure out how it is rather quickly. This is very effective as we really get a sense of how the characters think and feel, and know everything that is going on. Considering this is a story where three main characters are completely oblivious of one fact or another at certain times, I feel that this is a good thing.

I think what Joanne Harris is good at is giving us a perfect sensory experience. At some points, I was truly a little scared. While at others I could perfectly imagine the effects of the drugs that the characters were taking.

Overall, the book is a good read, but not up to scratch with her usual work. I'd give it the benefit on the doubt, though, as it was only her second book.

Despite the fact that she is my favourite author, it's a 5 out of 10 from me.