The Sleeper by Gillian White

the sleeperWhen the snow lay round about…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Christmas at Southdown Farm is always an uncomfortable time for Clover Moon, since her disapproving mother-in-law Violet comes visiting. But this year’s even worse than usual. Firstly, Clover has realised she’s deeply unhappy with her life and is in a permanent state of rage. And secondly, someone appears to be trying to hurt her, perhaps even kill her. Clover is sure that Violet has finally lost her senses and become dangerous. Meantime Miss Bates, a resident of the nearby Happy Haven home for the elderly, has disappeared. As the worst snow for decades continues to fall, the farm is cut off without phone or electricity and fears for Miss Bates’ safety grow…

Each Gillian White book seems to be stylistically different to the others. There are some things that do link them – the excellent quality of the writing, the creation of rather quirky characters, good if sometimes far-fetched plotting and an undercurrent of humour, though that shows up more in some than in others. This book has all of those things. White’s description of the isolated snowbound farm is chilling in more ways than one, as we see Clover’s husband battle the elements to look after his herd of cows while trying to prevent the house from being flooded by the overflowing river, not to mention dealing with the dead body that’s floated into the cellar along with the floodwater. The humour is quite muted, but comes through blackly at points, and the plotting is fairly complex, though to be honest I’d more or less guessed both what had happened and what the outcome would be by about the halfway point.

Gillian White (Source: fantasticfiction.co.uk)
Gillian White
(Source: fantasticfiction.co.uk)

The characterisation is White’s real strength and she’s assembled a strong cast here. We learn through flashbacks of Violet’s unhappy early life when her widowed father married the archetypal wicked stepmother. Clover is shown as an unstable drama-queen, quite unsuited to be a farmer’s wife, as Violet pointed out well before the wedding. We see Fergus, tied to the land by his family’s expectations, trying to please everyone and failing. The manager of Happy Havens is a middle-aged woman, fearing that she will have to give up her freedom to look after her aging and not-terribly-lovable old father. And the one likeable character is Miss Kessel, the worried friend and roommate of the missing Miss Bates.

While I found this a clever and well put together tale, the unlikeablity of most of the characters prevented me from feeling really engaged with the story. White has also used the ‘omniscient narrator’ device, never a favourite trick of mine; and this particular narrator has a technique of interjecting sly little asides that I found rather annoying. The earlier timeline of Violet’s childhood was much more interesting to me than the gathering of rather unpleasant and self-obsessed people in the present-day farm. But all of these points are a matter of personal taste rather than a real criticism of the writing. Overall, I found this another well written and quirky tale – not quite White’s best, but still enjoyable and worth reading.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Open Road.

TBR Thursday 9…

Episode 9

 

The TBR continues to grow exponentially – in fact, it’s way more frightening than anything that’s turned up on so far on Tuesday Terror! Here’s a few of the books that have added themselves to the list when my willpower was at a low ebb…

Courtesy of NetGalley:

 

the sleeperThis will be my fourth Gillian White since I discovered her earlier this year.  Two were very good, the other was great – which will this be…?

“The sins of the past haunt an isolated farmhouse as a snowstorm rages outside . . .

It’s not shaping up to be a very merry Christmas. Clover Moon feels trapped in her life as a farmer’s wife. She certainly doesn’t enjoy hosting Fergus’s mother, Violet, who always finds new ways to publicly humiliate her unsatisfactory daughter-in-law. But would Violet ever seek a more violent way of expressing her disapproval?

Violet is a medium, and the voices of the dead sometimes encourage her to do disturbing things. During her stay at the farmhouse, she claims to sense an intrusive presence. Fergus then discovers the dead body of a woman floating in their flooded cellar, and elderly Miss Bates, resident of a nearby senior home and a client of Violet’s, is missing . . .”

*****

we need new namesAnd this will be the fourth Booker shortlisted novel I’ve read. The Testament of Mary was great, Harvest was very good, A Tale for the Time Being was so-so…what will this be…?

“‘To play the country-game, we have to choose a country. Everybody wants to be the USA and Britain and Canada and Australia and Switzerland and them. Nobody wants to be rags of countries like Congo, like Somalia, like Iraq, like Sudan, like Haiti and not even this one we live in – who wants to be a terrible place of hunger and things falling apart?’

Darling and her friends live in a shanty called Paradise, which of course is no such thing. It isn’t all bad, though. There’s mischief and adventure, games of Find bin Laden, stealing guavas, singing Lady Gaga at the tops of their voices.

They dream of the paradises of America, Dubai, Europe, where Madonna and Barack Obama and David Beckham live. For Darling, that dream will come true. But, like the thousands of people all over the world trying to forge new lives far from home, Darling finds this new paradise brings its own set of challenges – for her and also for those she’s left behind.”

*****

the strangling on the stageMy first Simon Brett, though I’ve heard a couple of the Charles Paris BBC Radio 4 adaptions. Hopefully this will be a light and enjoyable romp…

“When Jude agrees to lend her vintage chaise longue for the local Amateur Dramatics Society’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple, little does she realize she’ll end up in a starring role. It’s an ambitious play, culminating in a dramatic execution scene: a scene that’s played for real when one of the leading actors is found hanging from the especially-constructed stage gallows during rehearsals. A tragic accident – or something more sinister? Carole and Jude make it their business to find out.”

*****

Pre-order:

 

days of fireI’m so far behind with factual reading (mainly because The Cave and the Light looks like it’ll take me about ten years to read) that I have no idea when I’ll get to this. But it should also be a fun romp…

“In Days of Fire, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times, takes us on a gripping and intimate journey through the eight years of the Bush and Cheney administration in a tour-de-force narrative of a dramatic and controversial presidency.

Theirs was the most captivating American political partnership since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger: a bold and untested president and his seasoned, relentless vice president. Confronted by one crisis after another, they struggled to protect the country, remake the world, and define their own relationship along the way. In Days of Fire, Peter Baker chronicles the history of the most consequential presidency in modern times through the prism of its two most compelling characters, capturing the elusive and shifting alliance of George Walker Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney as no historian has done before. He brings to life with in-the-room immediacy all the drama of an era marked by devastating terror attacks, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, and financial collapse.”

*****

Courtesy of Vine:

 

the tudorsJohn Guy is one of my favourite historians. Since I’ve read most of his long histories of the Tudors, I’m not sure whether this will add anything, but somehow those words ‘Very Short’ were irresistable…

“The monarchs of the Tudor period are among some of the most well-known figures in British history. John Guy presents a compelling and fascinating exploration of the Tudors in the new edition of this Very Short Introduction. Looking at all aspects of the period, from beginning to end, he considers Tudor politics, religion, and economics, as well as issues relating to gender and minority rule, and the art, architecture, and social and material culture of the time. Introducing all of the key Tudor monarchs, Guy considers the impact the Tudor period had not only at the time, but also the historical legacy it left behind. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.”

*****

All blurbs are taken from either Amazon or NetGalley.

What do you think? Any of these that you’re looking forward to too? Or are there other new releases you’re impatiently awaiting?