As daylight becomes shorter, there is nothing so comforting as a good novel. “The sleeper” set in the dark days of December leading up to and including Christmas certainly fills the bill. To say this novel is atmospheric is an understatement. An isolated Devon farm during a winter storm, a family gathered to spend the holidays together, and…. a body.
This novel is told from three different perspectives. We have the perspective of Clover Moon, the farmer’s wife, mother of two teenage daughters, and one deeply unhappy woman. Never really cut out for the farming life she has inherited through marriage, Clover is bitter. She feels having her mother-in-law Violet as a house guest during Christmas week is putting her under even more stress than the holidays already entail. Clover has never lived up to Violet’s expectations for her beloved only son and finds fault with myriad things Clover does making Clover feel inadequate and an unsuitable wife. It is only with the help of her best friend Diana – who is also staying over Christmas – that Clover can cope with her mother-in-law.
We also have the perspective of Violet, a widow, who remembers her entire married life on this farm. Hers was a very different existence there as she worked alongside her husband and was a true helpmeet who strived to make the farm a success. Upon William’s death, she moved to the tourist town of Torquay where she now has a small bungalow. She holds seances there and has a regular group visit her bungalow to attend them. Also, Violet had a tragic childhood with a trauma that would scar even the most strong minded.
Thirdly, we have the perspective of Valerie Gleeson, a hotel manageress in Torquay. Her hotel residents are mostly elderly and just days before Christmas one of them goes missing…
Family secrets, mounting family discord, and a busy dairy farm to run during a power outage all serve to ratchet up the tension.
Gillian White ties the three narratives together seamlessly with an ending that will please readers of Ruth Rendell, Margaret Yorke, Frances Fyfield and the like.