I love Joanne Harris ( The Evil Seed and Gentlemen and Players) . Even though there are works of hers that disturb me profoundly and some that are heart-rending and never ever just simple. Her characters are always struggling with their demons in life which gets extremely trying at times and one wishes someone will step up and help them or that they will themselves break out of the shackles that bind them, but that happens rarely. Also, her writing is characterized by the style of writing that I believe is known as “magic realism”. With a bit of magic happening to ordinary people. Not the in-your-face kind of magic but magic nonetheless.
Sleep, pale sister is the extremely tragic story of Effie. She was a 10-year-old child from an extremely poor neighborhood with an indifferent, greedy, self-absorbed mother and an affectionate aunt; who was one day sent to sit as a model for a painter who had money to pay for her sittings.
The painter is Henry Chester and he is infatuated with the child in addition to being a religious fanatic (Always a fatal combination that). He paints her in innumerable poses and costumes till he finally gives in to his baser desires and marries her when she is seventeen. He fell in love (or to use the correct term- lust) with her childish beauty and innocence and consequently fails to accept her growing up with desires and emotions of her own. As he tries to justify his growing aversion to her by religious diktats and keeps her under his control by drugging her, Effie finds solace in the arms of Chester’s rival Mose.
The complete downward spiral of Effie as she struggles to understand an indifferent husband before finally giving up, the utter desperation with which she looks for love and some understanding from those around her is troubling and maybe a bit long in parts. The betrayals she suffers from those in whom she places her complete trust are so subtle and cruel that they actually make you cringe for this hapless, frail and sedated woman.
The story is told from the perspective of the four major characters Effie, Henry Chester, Mose ( her paramour) and Fanny Miller the proprietress of a whorehouse. Each chapter is narrated by a different character as they see the story from their angles and analyse the actions and the motives behind them of the main characters in the drama. None of the chapters carry sub-titles and yet you have no difficulty whatsoever in figuring out who the narrator is.
It does seem a trifle long-winded in some parts but otherwise it is a well written piece of work. Would I read it a second time? Probably not since it is incredibly depressing. But I will recommend it for the excellent prose and character development in the book as well as the eerie atmosphere that exists in the entire novel.
I simply had to share this piece of art with this post.
This is an illustration from Zoe Monday’s blog “Slightly Flawed” and I must say that the moment I clapped eyes on this work the word ‘Effie’ sprang up in my mind. The dress and background are reminiscent of the era in which the story is set and the sad, melancholy expression on her face completely captures that lost almost sleep-walking quality of Effie’s existence while the rope around her neck reminds me of the people who control her life. As if they will not even allow her to jump to her death the way she would want to.