“ Author: Joanne Harris / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 01 September 2004 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd / Title: Sleep, Pale Sister / ISBN 13: 9780552771788 / ISBN 10: 0552771788 „
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Sleep, Pale Sister is another novel by the writer Joanne Harris, the creator of Chocolat.
This book is a big step away from Chocolat, it features a different form of magic and an entirely different mother-daughter team, and neither of them are the particular focus of this book. As with the vast majority of her novels, Harris writes this from the point of view of several characters.
Set in Victorian London the book revolves around an artist named Henry Chester. One day, while walking through a park, Henry spies a girl named Euphemia (nicknamed "Effie") who instantly becomes his muse. For years he looks after her and her family (she has no father, just a mother and an aunt), paying for her tutors and her books, while she sits for the many, many pictures that she creates.When she turns 17 he marries her, but she quickly proves to not be the woman he imagined.
Henry Chester comes across as a man plagued by sin, not just a misogynist but a total woman hater. He has bitter memories of his mother, of the girls he grew up with, and is constantly blaming his wife for his failings. His wife Effie is a more sympathetic character, heavily drugged by her husband to keep her quiet, and clearly unhappy in her marriage and in the way he treats her. Early on in the book she has an out of body experience, and this theme continues as the pages go by.
Effie then meets a character called Mose, and he in turn introduces her to Fanny, a brothel owner. Fanny has her own score to settle with Harry as her young daughter died on the evening of one of his visits over ten years ago. As a witch, she has already spotted Effie's ability to leave her own body, and decides to use this to her own advantage. She is a colder, more twisted version of Harris' popular character "Vianne Rocher", and since this book was published in 1993, several years before Chocolat, it is possible to see the early stages of the mother witch-daughter witch theme in Harris' later novels.
While the descriptions of the surroundings hold all of Harris' usual vibrancy, this book is lacking a lot of the charm that we see in later books. There is no real suspense as Henry Chester's attitude (and requirements when it comes to sexual preferences) are shown very early on. Effie's out of body pieces are good but never fully develop, and for someone who is a bit of a drug addict she seems to come off the laudanum rather easily at one stage. Mose is simply an annoying character that is used to bridge the gap between Effie and Fanny and has no real development. Fanny herself only gets the odd chapter to herself, most of what we learn about her is through the eyes of the other three characters, and while she is likable at the beginning her ending of "oh well, it's a shame but there you go" makes her a lot less likable.
Overall, this is a decent enough read, the plot isn't bad and the characters are decent enough. But it is one of Harris' early works so do not expect the same level of writing that we get from her other books. And definitely do not expect the same warm, domestic magic you've seen in Chocolat.
This was one of her first books, and it doesn't appeal to the main body of popular fiction. Only a few books have ever sent shivers down my spine, but I shouldn't have read this book at night. It is easy at first to get the plot of the story, although maybe a little abstract- the artist, the main character, Henry, marrying his model, Effie, may not be strange, but the fact he married her since knowing her from the age of 9 is. As the story develops, it delves into paedophilic tendencies and the paranormal, and it becomes, a little hard to follow. It involves a girl who was killed at the age of 10 by Henry, and who proceeds to possess his wife in order to live again and so get revenge. However, the author doesn't readily distinguish between the two, making them seem one and the same person some of the time, and separate at others, which is difficult to understand, and so makes the story a little hazy while you try to work out who is who. The way she writes, however, is very spooky. She describes being alone and dark spots in darkened rooms, and never completely describes the transformation of the possessed Effie, which lets a suggested air of the supernatural into the story and so helps the progress of the aforementioned shivers. A good story overall, but not very clear in the telling.