Book Review

While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt

while you sleep

A house full of secrets…

The McBride house lies on a remote Scottish island, isolated and abandoned. A century ago, a young widow and her son died mysteriously there. Last year a local boy, visiting for a dare, disappeared without a trace.

A woman alone at night…

For Zoe Adams, the house offers an escape from her failing marriage. But when night falls, her peaceful retreat is disrupted—scratches at the door, strange voices—and Zoe is convinced she is being watched.

A threat that lurks in the shadows…

The locals tell Zoe the incidents are merely echoes of the house’s dark past. Zoe is sure the danger is all too real—but can she uncover the truth before she is silenced?

Experiencing trouble in her marriage, Zoe Adams calls time out, and secludes herself on a remote Scottish island where she can focus on her art away from her controlling husband.  It’s a difficult decision, but she needs the space to decide what to do next, and the beautifully renovated house she rents from the Drummond family is perfect.  Here, she’ll find the peace and quiet she so desperately needs.  Zoe is an intriguing character.  She not entirely likeable, but it’s a brave step to move away from your life in this way, even if it is intended as a temporary, rather than permanent, measure.  While her motivation seems obvious at first, there are hints at a troubled past and an accident some six months earlier that leave the reader wanting to know more about her, and it raises questions as to her reliability as a narrator.

Zoe’s first night in the McBride house (as it’s referred to by the island’s inhabitants) isn’t quite as peaceful as she’d hoped, and she’s at a loss to explain the vivid dreams and the sound of singing she hears.  Is it the jetlag, combined with an unfamiliar setting?  Is it the wind, and her tired mind playing tricks on her?  Or is the house haunted as the locals seem to believe?  Despite the owner’s attempts to keep it quiet, it doesn’t take long for Zoe to discover the history of the McBride house, and she begins to look into the fate of Ailsa McBride, who supposedly went mad and killed her son in the mid nineteenth century.  There are a lot of unanswered questions, and, as is the nature of any small community, everyone has an opinion on the matter.  Zoe spends a lot of time with Charles, the local historian, who’d like to publish a book on the McBride story, despite the owner’s obvious discomfort at their interest.  It’s a compelling mystery, and I wanted to know more, particularly as the old legend has recently been rekindled by the disappearance of a young boy.

While You Sleep isn’t a fast-paced read, but it’s one that I couldn’t put down as I had to know what happened to Ailsa all those years ago, as well as what was happening to Zoe in the present day.  Merritt has written a wonderful Gothic thriller that has a healthy dose of paranormal activity included.  I enjoyed the folkloric elements, and the mysteries in the novel were interesting and engaging.  I did think that the ending was a little rushed, but it was satisfactory in answering all of the questions raised throughout the novel, and there were some wonderful little twists in the plot to take the story in an unexpected direction.  It’s worth noting that there are a small number of explicit scenes.  Nothing too over the top, but I mention it as it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

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