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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
Sleep, Pale Sister
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on 27 August 2017
Joanne Harris writes beautifully. This was her first novel and is a promise of the things to come! Rather dark (gothic), but her knack of getting the charachters 'just right' is very present/
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on 6 February 2017
This was originally published in 1994 and has been described as a Gothic novel and also as a ghost story. It does not come up to the mark for either of those. I think the writer was encouraged to re-work it and ‘try again’ for the 2004 re-issue. She was not sure herself whether it was worth salvaging.
I read perhaps the first 100 pages with some interest, although it seemed to offer no more than the genuine Victorian melodramas from the actual period. Modernisation means that it ‘hints’ less, and goes into detail more, about the perversions of ‘gentlemen’ of that period. Especially as it relates to the abuse of young girls. Of course, that criminal depravity is not confined to the 19th century!
The book is over-long and increasingly becomes a confusing mish mash, with every element thrown in that you can imagine, including women magically transforming themselves to take on other persona. I did baulk at that. Much of the plot (there isn’t much really) is predictable. You know that tragedy lies ahead for young Effie.
Fanny and Mose are fairly one-dimensional characters with simplistic motivation. Mose is the stereotypical Victorian villain, but less intelligent than they are usually portrayed. Fanny, in particular, is decidedly too weird for the brothel madam she is. A simpler revenge would have been more credible for her. Henry’s diatribes and long, guilt-laden internal monologues are repetitive and very boring. Each of these four characters get chapters from their particular viewpoint, which slices up the chronology.
Both Effie and Henry wallow in drugs (Yes, I know about addiction, realised or otherwise, in the 19th century) and this helps to muddy things further in trying to make the action, characterisation and plot development etc. more explicable.
I kept going (speed reading the last 150 pages) although not sure why I felt that I should, except that I have enjoyed some of Joanne Harris’s books. ‘Gentlemen and Players’ is on another, much higher level, for example. ‘Blueeyed Boy’ is certainly more intelligent. One caveat on the latter book being, please, no more unreliable narrators – the derivatives are endless and still going on!
I cannot recommend ‘Sleep, Pale Sister’, however, not even to her fans.
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on 17 June 2010
When I started Sleep Pale Sister it took me a while to get into it - it felt like it might be one of those books that trys to be arty for art's sake...

2 chapters in and I was hooked and completely wrong - it's just that Henry's character in the book is so bizarre that in reading the first chapter (written in his voice)it can be a little worrying that the whole novel is going to continue in this narrative style.

I loved the characters - Joanne Harris is extremely talented in making 4 completely different narrative voices so real - every chapter is written from a different character and you very quickly get used to the 4 minds - there is no confusion and having to revisit previous pages to work out whos turn it is - you just feel their individual energy straight away and I love that style of writing!

I was reminded of Sarah Walters in this book - Affinity is my absolute favourite read - and the black magic and mystery draws you in so completely that you cannot put the book down (and when you do it is still very much with you in everything you do. The reason for only 4 stars in stead of 5 is purely down to the ending. If you have read Infinity you will know how cleverly the magic and mystery is explained at the end of the book, where this one still leaves you wondering and a little disappointed at the lack of a clean finish.

This is only my opinion - I love mystery for the reason that I enjoy seeing how the author returns to normality and order at the close of the story - so for me this left too many questions unanswered but many other readers would probably prefer to stay in that sense of unknowing and completely give themselves over to the escapism of reading.

I would definitely recommend this book.
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on 18 August 2009
'Sleep, Pale Sister' is one of Joanne Harris's earliest novels and due to popular demand was re~released and when you read it, you will find out why. 'Sleep, Pale Sister' tells the story of Effie and the men in her life who set out to hurt in the cruelest manner possible. Effie finds a way to have her revenge in this dark novel. The chapters are told from the perspective of each separate characters which makes the story more interesting, you find out more about their pasts, the people they are.

A very dark, very gothic and interesting book.
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on 2 February 2009
I am a huge Harris fan and this novel didn't disappoint. You can definitely see where some of her later ideas took seed and as you would expect there is a huge magical influence throughout this story. This is much darker than Harris' later novels - there are none of the lighter, poetic moments that her novels centred around food give us - but that only makes it more special. I could so easily see this novel turned into a spine-chilling ghost film. Harris creates a disturbing atmosphere, and some pretty horrific characters, with ease and I found it impossible to put the book down. Maybe not as full of warmth and exotic language as her later works but as scary as any gothic novel you will have read.
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on 16 March 2002
This is a consuming Gothic novel by the author of Chocolat. What lies hidden in that later novel is brought to the fore here. Whilst Vianne Rocher has a love/hate relationship with the Tarot in Chocolat, the cards here form the divisions of the text, the stepping-stones we take to reach the conclusion. And it is possible to make a reading from these cards, unlike those of T. S. Elliot's Madame Sosostris.
Henry Paul Chester is a Victorian artist, the owner of a deadly secret, which goes to the very depth of his heart and art. Here we seem to be on traditional Gothic turf: that of James Hogg and his 'Confessions of a Justified Sinner', for Chester postulates that he may well have a secret double. Joanne Harris obeys the literary conventions of the early Gothic here by making Chester a Catholic - Matthew 'Monk' Lewis' Ambrosio removed from his Abbey and placed into the art world. He is just as repressed and far back in denial as Father Reynaud is in Chocolat. Then there's a touch of Sheridan Le Fanu too, with the distressed maiden taking liberal doses of laudanum. However, 'Sleep, Pale Sister' is not just homage to old fictions. Joanne Harris is an excellent storyteller, with a quite distinctive style. The tales of Le Fanu and Stoker may have had their powerful, exciting moments, but Harris outshines them all with her excellent technique.
Chester is obsessed with painting young, 'innocent' girls. Which leads him to spot the nine-year-old Effie in a park. For the price of a few shillings, Chester gets his perfect model. Effie becomes the star of a series of portraits of young, distressed children, such as 'The Little Beggar Girl'. After ten years, Chester marries his 'perfect' model, and this is precisely the moment when their relationship sours. She turns to one of Chester's rivals, the unscrupulous Moses Zachary Harper, for solace. But he is not about to lead her to the Promised Land. It is at a carnival that Effie finally heeds her calling, summoned by Fanny Miller, a brothel keeper who sees something of her dead daughter in Effie. With Effie under her spell, Fanny finally unlocks Henry Chester's dark secret. Together with Mose, she devises a deadly plan to expose and ruin Chester. But with the use of magic, there is always the danger of the unseen...
In Chocolat, there's a delicious scene in which Harris refers to 'Alice in Wonderland', and it seems as though she could be hinting to Charles Dodgsons' suspected paedophilia. But there is also the example of the Pre-Raphaelite John Ruskin, whose name is often mentioned in this novel, as Chester seeks the art critic's approbation. Ruskin too married an Effie, Euphemia Gray. Ruskin's marriage was annulled after six years due to it being unconsummated, leaving Effie free to marry another Pre-Raphaelite artist. It's possible that Joanne Harris got part of her story from this source, from Ruskin's repressed sexuality. One also has to take note of the fact that Kate Atkinson has taken the name of Euphemia as the heroine of her latest novel, 'Emotionally Weird'. Now that Harris and Atkinson are both published by Doubleday, it would seem prudent to investigate such links between these two writers. However, Atkinson's use of Effie may well be coincidental, since this name seems to be beloved of the Scots and 'Emotionally Weird' is very celebratory of all things Scottish. Besides, 'Euphemia' means 'to speak well', and since Effie is not the most articulate of narrators (in her narrative which knows it is prose), this is probably another sign of Atkinson's wordplay at work.
However, as mentioned before, Harris' 'Sleep, Pale Sister' can be linked to a number of other Victorian and Pre-Victorian Gothic fictions. Also running through the novel is the figure of Scheherazade, the heroine of 'A Thousand and One Nights', who, to prevent her execution by the king, her husband, cleverly told him so many fabulous tales that the time of her execution had to be constantly stayed, because he was so eager to hear their resolution. Of course, the Arabian Nights do have a happy conclusion, and it's intriguing to see Joanne Harris playing with the rules of convention here.
'Sleep, Pale Sister' is then a quite complex work, but combined with Harris' typically strong plot, any reader will be compelled to race to the end. It's a very rewarding novel, operating on many levels. Take, for instance, Harris' employment of 'My Sister's Sleep', the poem which forms the basis for one of Effie's portraits - it does have a great deal of relevance to the plot. One of Harris' main themes is that of Childhood, as excelled in her latest novel, 'Blackberry Wine'. It is entirely appropriate then, that she should attempt to tackle the Victorians, who are widely credited with having created 'childhood'. However, Harris is quite clear as to how some Victorians set out to pervert their creation. This is a narrative conceived from the same pen as that of Chocolat, and therefore deserves to be read by a much wider audience. At its heart lies the same battle between the supposed rational man and the 'hysterical' woman, as defined here by the fictional psychoanalyst Dr. Francis Russell. Like 'Chocolat', an equal balance of male and female antagonists narrates the novel. You'll not be disappointed by this rare and bloody fiction.
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on 20 June 2007
I understand that this book disappeared without trace when it was first released. Goodness only knows why. Lacklustre promotion, I can only imagine because it's a wonderful book. Echoes of Dorian Gray but without the covert mysogyny. Darkly magical. Literate and hugely enjoyable.

Unlike a previous reviewer, I loved the device of having the four narrators and had no problem descerning which was which. Indeed, it simply increased my admiration for the author's skill and dexterity.

I loved Chocolat but I couldn't get on with Five Quarter's of the Orange at all. What does it matter? Sleep, Pale Sister is a stand-alone success.
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on 8 July 2011
A scary book to say the least. Tragedy, revenge and self-absorbtion rolled into the characters and how they reflect each other's designs to the others. Well written and the darkness keeps going until the last page.
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on 20 March 2005
Let me start by saying that Joanne Harris is one of my favorite writers - this book is a re-print of a novel that had first been published before she became well-known.

It features her usual blend of colorful characters (including the occasional spirit!) bound together by deep, and often dark, passion and magic.

Unusually, in this book she seems to have little sympathy for her characters - though I must admit that most of them really aren't all that likeable, the fact that even their creator can't sympathize with them or try to make some sort of excuse for them, makes them that much sadder.

I enjoyed reading it, but it's nowhere near one of her best works - I personally think she's at her best when writing about food, Chocolat being one of my all-time favorite books.
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on 30 August 2009
what a fantastic book!
I have read most of Harris's books and have never been disappointed and this one was no exception. You have to be open to mediums, the supernatural and the spirit world to really appreciate it which was no problem for me - on the contrary, the whole saga was refreshingly different from other authors who have failed in the past to convince me to believe.
JH swaps narrators throughout the book so you can live the story through the eyes of each antagonist including the male characters - I find that she writes just as easily as a woman as she does as a man (Gentleman & Players is a perfect example of her faculty to switch sexes)
The story is enchanting and captivating - you know early on which character you are supposed to feel sorry for (Effie - even if her weaknesses are frustrating), and which character to despise(Harry - whose childhood weirdness can't even excuse the monster he becomes)
It's wierd and wonderful and well worth reading.
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