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    Review of SLEEP, PALE SISTER by Joanne Harris (see her website)

    Harper Perenial, September 2005

    Review by Cathy Richard Dodson (see her website)

    Joanne Harris is best known for her novel Chocolat, later made into a film by the same name. Sleep, Pale Sister is one of her earlier novels, originally published in 1994 and reprinted in this 2004 edition with fabulous cover art by Graham Overden. (There's a discussion of their collaboration at the back of the book, along with an interview with Harris.)

    Sleep, Pale Sister is Gothic in the traditional literary sense, meaning simply that it contains elements of terror, mystery, supernatural, and ghosts, as well as delving into emotional extremes, which this certainly book does. Henry Chester is a puritanical artist, whose fascination with children leads him to Effie, a delicate beauty who becomes his model and later his bride. Henry, however, loves her only for her innocence, which he strives to keep pure but sometimes fails in his attempts. Effie, a passionate woman longing for a gentle sexual awakening, is stifled by Henry's passivity.

    When Effie meets Mose Harper, a rake who is also modeling for Henry, she is ready for an affair, but Mose, intent on blackmailing Henry, probably isn't the best choice. Caught in Henry's web of laudanum and Victorian suppression, Mose leads Effie to Fanny Miller, who runs a brothel and has secrets connections to Henry's past. Fanny's plan to use Effie as a tool for revenge against Henry, has surprising ramifications for all of them.

    Sleep, Pale Sister is told from the point of view of each character, so you find yourself slipping from dreams, to drug-induced states to the metaphysical to vengefulness with the turn of a page. Sometimes difficult to read due to its literary expressiveness, the narrative remains beautiful yet chilling. The ending is perhaps a bit confusing, because the characters are relating their secrets with 19th century exposition, which doesn't always tell the whole truth. This isn't a happy book, yet there's something compelling about the overall story. If you're going to read it, prepare to let yourself 'go with the flow.'

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 3/02/06

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