While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt is an startling gem, a true treasure that will leave readers lusting for part two.
After a short, beautifully written prologue, Merritt slams readers directly into the action, leaving them breathless. Zoe Adams arrives on a tiny island off the coast of Scotland. She wants to be alone, but the islanders are intent on examining her, managing her. An atmosphere of dread begins to seep into the minds of readers. Zoe has left her past behind in America and only wants to paint in peace and solitude, as so she says. However, ambiguities hover over Zoe like a dark cloud. Who she really is and why she chose this rugged island will remain a mystery for most of this gothic tale.
During Zoe’s very first night in a renovated mansion, a shocking episode will leave readers stunned. Zoe begins her journey toward darkness or light; only time will tell which will prevail. It is obvious that Zoe cannot trust the islanders or herself. She does make two friends, but their intentions are as convoluted as are Zoe’s true motives. The plot is deliciously complex and tortuous. Readers will constantly struggle to decide what is real, human, supernatural, or madness. A surprise lurks around every corner. The inclusion of the archetypal British Demon Lover trope is the luridly compelling twist that triggers a connection with the reader’s collective unconscious, driving readers to wonder if he is real, only a psychotic complex, or something much more dangerous.
The characters are all unique and clearly drawn. The each speaks with his own voice and mannerism, obliterating any possibility of confusion that might slow the reading process. Each has secrets and murky backstories, so none of them can be trusted. In addition, in each of them lurks hints of impending menace. The only possible character nit is the fact that Zoe speaks with a decidedly British accent. She uses terms few Americans will recognize. But that is okay. Readers will root for her and care deeply about her welfare.
The setting melds perfectly with the plot. The highly atmospheric landscape is rugged, barren, and tumultuous, a metaphor for Zoe’s life and interior conflicts. Turbulent winds, waves, and storms batter Zoe, reminding her of the danger she has called into her life. Because the island is so remote and undeveloped, communication with the outside world is often impossible, allowing her to conceal hidden truths. She is truly alone in her battle for survival and self-awareness and the transformation that might lead to insight and happiness.
The complex combination of literary elements meld to produce a unique, dreamlike, and deliciously disturbing tale that will burrow into the minds or readers. The inclusion of enough accurate supernatural content easily guarantees the willing suspension of disbelief which is only outpaced by the enthralling literary quality of the text which make While You Sleep a smooth, clean, pleasurable read.
While You Sleep comes highly recommended for a broad range of differing audiences. It is a gripping tale that will not allow readers to turn away.