Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Book Review: The Sleepwalkers

By Jami Denison

Weddings and honeymoons are supposed to be some of the happiest, most romantic times in a person's life. But suspense authors know they are rife with opportunities for betrayal, heartbreak, and death. British author Scarlett Thomas’s latest book, The Sleepwalkers, turns an idyllic honeymoon into a deadly nightmare. If you dream of a vacation in the Greek Isles, don’t read this book!

The Sleepwalkers harkens back to the very beginning of fiction, formatting the story in the form of letters. Bride Evelyn kicks off the story, writing a goodbye letter to her husband Richard while he sleeps. What could go so wrong on a honeymoon that the bride wants to leave? According to Evelyn, the problems all started when the couple set foot in their hotel, Villa Rosa, especially chosen by Richard’s mother for this week only, forcing Evelyn to turn down an acting job. The hotel’s proprietress, Isabella, only has eyes for Richard and treats Evelyn scornfully. Rather than defending his wife, Richard takes Isabella’s side. Since Richard and Evelyn originally met when she worked as his family’s housekeeper, the slight is especially galling. Isabella enthralls Richard with the story of the Sleepwalkers, a married couple who drowned while sleepwalking. As a storm brews, Evelyn tries to make her escape. But as her letter grows longer, it becomes obvious that the couple’s problems began long before their honeymoon started. Eventually, we get a letter from Richard and his side of the story, which doesn’t do him any favors. Then the letters themselves become part of the plot, and there’s a surprising twist and a time jump.

The Sleepwalkers is being compared to the HBO series The White Lotus as written by Patricia Highsmith. Unlike The White Lotus, I doubt readers would want to visit the Villa Rosa, and Thomas’s descriptions of the Greek Isle don’t do the locale any favors, either. Several times, Thomas references the Edward Albee play The Zoo Story (Evelyn is an actress and playwright), but I think Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is the more apt comparison, with its hateful married couple and the games they play at the center of the action. Neither Richard nor Evelyn is particularly likeable, but the mysteries that Thomas weaves in, and her haunting way of telling the story, keep readers engaged even though her characters aren’t easy to root for.

While its plot might feel familiar for readers who enjoy domestic suspense, Thomas’s stream-of-consciousness writing style and the languid atmosphere of her setting make the story unique. While The White Lotus comparison didn’t work for me—Villa Rosa hardly provided the luxury of those resorts—The Sleepwalkers is highly visual and might also find itself streaming on the small screen someday.  

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Scarlett Thomas:

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