Gothic Literature has a special place in my heart; I truly enjoy reading books filled with mystery and suspense with a touch of the macabre, foreboding castles and manors, and long buried secrets rising to the surface like a skeletal hand poking from its grave. Sleep, Pale Sister by Joanne Harris is an excellent example of said genre; she weaves a dark story using the narrative of four players who carry their own secrets into the fold. The book begins with Henry Chester, an artist with a touch of religion who finds inspiration in beauty wrapped in youth while desiring it on a carnal level. He is a broken man, one who should not receive sympathy from the readers but only scorn. His secrets provide part of the puzzle of the book and it is those secrets that cause his utter downfall.
Next we have Chester’s child bride Effie, who begins in this novel as his model and Muse. He first notices her at age ten and soon uses her as inspiration for his sanctimonious pieces. Effie, at first glance, is a shy child but who soon reveals her other side when she becomes of age as Chester’s wife. Hidden beneath the blond locks and pale complexion lies a woman who discovers her own inner strength through magic and seduction of Moses Harper, the third player in this novel. Harper is a rake and rogue who has a somewhat heart for situations that are beneficial only to him. He befriends Chester while seducing his wife, only to realize later that Effie is more than she appears to be. The final player is Fanny, a woman of ill repute yet able to show a modicum of concern towards Effie, especially when she earns of Effie’s special powers. However, Fanny has own her reasons for being drawn into this game, reasons that draw the other three players into a downward spiral that will expose everyone and leave no winners.
Harris’ book consists of the four players’ narratives, each adding their own spin to the ever-growing puzzle that comes together at the very end. Each narrator has their own distinct voice that makes them more believable to the reader. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself hating the characters at one point in the novel, only to like them in another; that is the charm of Joanne Harris’ writing. She draws you in with such expertise of the English language that one can’t help but feel as though they were actually in 1800s London, witnessing these strange events. Her style is clearly her own and not a poor and shoddy imitation of someone else, adding more credence to her strength as an author.
Although it is not explicitly expressed or mentioned in Sleep Pale Sister, the theme of witchcraft is prevalent. Although Effie does not know how she received such powers, she does understand the power behind them. Through her powers, she understands her inner strength, giving her courage while being married to controlling and hypocritical Chester. Her power is her own and no one can take that away from her. When Fanny learns of her power, she too is amazed and yet hopeful that her power can assist in her ultimate plan of revenge against Chester for a horrifying act committed many years ago. Fanny also reveals her powers, showing herself to be woman not to be reckoned with but in the end her powers are her undoing for the time being. Effie and Fanny both use their powers towards Chester, using him as a willing tool. Deep down he knows this and is still a willing pawn for his disturbing needs must be satisfied. Mose, although at first charmed by Effie and her hidden side, is too wrapped up in his own schemes to be completely taken in like Chester. He escapes but the price is high.
The game is created. The players are named and set. Let the fun begin.