What’s it about?
Zoe Adams is newly arrived on a remote Scottish island from America, running away from her failing marriage. She seeks solitude and peace in the newly refurbished McBride house, but her retreat is troubled by nighttime disturbances; strange singing, unwanted intrusions, and dreams so vivid they leave her with bruises. Zoe is convinced the danger is more than supernatural, but can she uncover the truth before it’s too late?
I need to start this with a confession: I’m a total wimp. I get scared at Doctor Who, I’m fully convinced my mum’s house is haunted despite not really believing in ghosts, and I sleep with the lights on if I’m home alone. So naturally when NetGalley offered me the chance to read While You Sleep, I jumped at it.
It is a very eerie book. Merritt’s location building skills are second to none; the rain lashes down and the lights flicker out with exemplary vividity. The isolated house location is well-described, and Merritt is clearly familiar with the Scottish islands in some form. She can certainly put a story together and keep you reading, which is to be expected; Merritt’s pseudonym is S.J. Parris, author of the successful historical fiction Giordano Bruno series.
However, I had significant problems with both the characters and the plot. Looking first at the characters, they were so stereotypical that it took me nearly to the end of the book to come to terms with the fact that they were actually all exactly what they seemed and there was nothing hidden here. It felt a little Wickerman at times, and I did wonder if that was Merritt’s chief inspiration for the story.
Then there is the character of Zoe. Without going into spoiler territory, the unreliable female narrator trope is the biggest cliché in thriller writing and I am so so disappointed that she used it, and with such ‘thriller-by-numbers’ predictability. Equally, the isolated coastal house that creaks creepily is a well-worn path; any sane person would not choose to barricade themselves thus, but I suppose that’s the point.
This brings me onto the plot. This is a ghost story-cum-thriller, and it is not particularly well thought out as either. Again avoiding spoilers, it reminded me of a poor episode of Jonathan Creek, albeit without the charisma and plot-line of the tv show. The ending is a total cop-out and felt lazy, for want of a better word. It’s as if Merritt got bored halfway through planning it and went down the Dynasty route*.
So all in all, this book leaves me disappointed. It could have made a half decent ghost story, or a half decent thriller if Merritt had thought a bit more about how it was going to work, but I don’t think she did, so it is neither. I was genuinely scared by the first half or so (not very hard to do, but still) but I was left so cold by the concluding chapters and ending that I read it alone in the house with all the lights off.
Would I recommend it?
Not really. If you’re going on holiday and want something to half-read by the pool, this would work. I didn’t throw it across the room upon finishing (as I did with The Other Mrs Walker) but that’s not saying much.
While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt is published by HarperCollins on 8th March 2018 priced £12.99.
I received an advance copy to review thanks to NetGalley.
*It wasn’t all a dream, but it could well have been.