Sleep, Pale Sister
by Joanne Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sleep, Pale Sister / 0-06-078711-2
"Sleep, Pale Sister" grabs you from the first page and never lets go. As you are dragged through the lives of a pale victim and her three persecutors, you are shown by turns the motivations and inner thoughts of her tormentors, by the compelling switches between narrative viewpoint. This is one of the hardest tricks to pull off in novels, yet Harris manages to make it look effortless. Each tormentor addresses themselves to us, explains their motives and urges that their view is the "right" one. As each villain "loves" our poor victim into the grave, we are touched with the deep sadness of the cruelties we can inflict on one another in our own deep selfishness.
The tormentors are incredibly varied and intensely compelling: a husband who hates his wife for being human and who punishes her for her own good to remove the sin from her; a lover who hates his darling for being more than a trinket and who torments her to break her spirit and satisfy his own desires; and a distraught mother who is so anxious to see her dead daughter again that she will hypnotize, drug, and abuse a sweet stranger in an attempt to regain what she has lost. Deeper and darker than other Harris novels, "Sleep, Pale Sister" offers no hope - only a painful, terrifying look at how even the 'normal' amongst us can become so consumed with our own desires and pain that we become willing to inflict pain on innocent bystanders. I highly recommend this novel as a gripping, terrifying read.
I should mention one thing: Harris seems to be working with a different Tarot tradition than the one I was taught, and it leads to some potential for confusion in the reading. She uses The Hermit to identify murderers and dark secrets, rather than as a card of withdrawal and meditation. The Hanging Man and Death are here regarded as bad omens, instead of as cards of change and growth. Most confusing of all is her use of The Star to indicate miscarriage and trauma, instead of as a card of spiritual healing. The fact that Harris uses a different interpretation of the Tarot did not in any way detract from the novel for me, but it is worth mentioning because I found the symbolism confusing on the first read-through.
~ Ana Mardoll
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