I still can’t decide how much I like this book, although I finished it almost two weeks ago. It is written in an imitation of old-fashioned style, which I normally don’t like, but Harris makes it work really well. There’s a bunch of really stereotypical gender stuff in it, which normally irritates the crap out of me, but it’s not really presented as a war of the sexes; rather, pretty much nobody comes off looking particularly good. There are mystical aspects to the story, presented in a taken-for-granted fashion but still leaving room for doubt. I don’t know what I think of it. Basically, there are a bunch of elements here that would normally lead to a thumbs-down, but Harris manages to weave it all together beautifully.
The protagonist is an artist who marries one of his child models, expecting her to remain as compliant and biddable as she always was throughout her childhood. She grows up, he gets weirder, a ghost gets involved (or maybe not), and almost everyone seems addicted to laudanum or alcohol or chloral. There’s sex and adultery, murder and rape, magic and deception, paedophiles and prostitutes. The traumatic aspects of the story are not written in great detail but I still found some of them hard, so maybe a content warning for child abuse and sexual abuse, depending on what your threshold is. Mine’s pretty low.
I think I liked it, overall. But I didn’t like it enough to be sure that I like it. Weird?
Sleep, Pale Sister by Joanne Harris. 1994. ISBN 978-006-078711-0