Cover Image: The Sleepwalkers

The Sleepwalkers

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Member Reviews

Any book that has a (minor character) called the dapper little man who runs a local curio shop is always going to be a hit for me and this book was , mostly.

I absolutely loved the first half of this book, the Patricia Highsmith vibes are strong and the protagonist, Evelyn, was such a beguiling character . The book opens with Evelyn and Richard escaping to a supposed Greek island paradise to relax after the chaos of their honeymoon. However things go wrong, badly so.

This was a dark, funny, sharp and unsettling read. When the book switched narratives my interest waned a little but the book pulled me back in with its twisty atmospheric ways. What started as an examination of a relationship becomes so much more . A little unevenly paced but overall a deeply satisfying read.
Recommend.
4 star.

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Evelyn and Richard's honeymoon, a surprise gift from Richard's mother, Annabelle, takes a dark turn when they arrive at Villa Rosa on the island of Kathos. Evelyn senses something amiss, from the unsettling behavior of the hotel's owner, Isabella, to the eerie stories of past tragedies involving sleepwalking couples.

"The Sleepwalkers" unfolds as a gripping tale of mystery and suspense, delving into themes of fate and the unknown. The narrative, told through letters, recordings, journals, and photographs, creates an atmospheric and chilling experience. While the format may require readers to connect the dots, it ultimately adds depth to the story.

The novel's strength lies in its unexpected twists and turns, keeping readers on the edge of their seats. The plot's ambiguity contributes to its unguessable nature, leaving readers in awe of the author's storytelling prowess.

Despite occasional challenges in piecing together the narrative, "The Sleepwalkers" is a captivating read that showcases the author's skill in crafting a compelling and suspenseful story. It's a journey filled with surprises and revelations that will leave readers admiring the intricate plot construction and the gripping storytelling style of Ms. Thomas.

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This book started off so well - great setting in the Greek Islands, intriguing premise, unreliable narrator and some stylish and wickedly funny writing. However, around the 50% mark it took a weird, fragmented structural turn that jolted me out of the story for a while. It did recover but the lost momentum meant this wasn’t quite the book I had hoped it would be.

Evelyn and Richard are an English couple on their honeymoon in Kathos, a fictional Greek island resembling Samos. They’re staying at the ramshackle Villa Rosa, where the previous year two holidaymakers died when they apparently sleepwalked into the sea, a story which has piqued the interest of two Hollywood filmmakers who arrive at the hotel to buy the rights to the story.

The hotel is run by the beautiful and enigmatic Isabella who immediately takes a shine to Richard, much to Evelyn’s irritation. Doors stay unlocked at the hotel and there’s a sinister vibe to it all, the decadent beauty of the hotel a stark contrast to the squalid refugee camp on the other side of the island.

It’s obvious from the start that Evelyn and Richard’s marriage is marred by secrets and lies, though it’s some time before those are revealed to the reader, through a letter from Richard to Evelyn. It’s quite a shocking reveal too, so reader caution is advised.

Overall this was a very good read, albeit that the structure of the book didn’t always work for me. I loved Evelyn’s chaotic messiness, Richard’s bumbling uselessness (never having matured beyond his private schoolboy teenage years) and Isabella’s fiendish, manipulative ways. Clever, perhaps ultimately just a little too clever that it lost its smoothness. 3.5/5 ⭐️

*Many thanks to the author, publisher Scribner and @netgalley for the early copy in exchange for an honest review.

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In The Sleepwalkers, Scarlett Thomas dissects a relationship (or rather, allows it to dissect itself). Newlyweds Evelyn and Richard are on a Greek island where his mother, her mother-in-law, has booked an idyllic (...supposedly...) hotel for the honeymoon. However, fissures are apparent from the very start, with Evie resentful of Annabelle's machinations, which both required the wedding to be brought froward and had them kicking their heels in a cheap hotel until their room at Villa Rosa become free. Moreover, it's the very end of the season, the island is visibly closing down day be day, and the locals say bad weather is coming. And Evelyn feels that Isabella, the owner of the hotel, is slighting her, talking past her to Richard, flirting with him. It may be true - the partial account that Evelyn gives certainly supports that, but then Richard's (also partial) account doesn't, or may not. Possibly he, a man flattered by Isabella's attention, isn't seeing, or doesn't want to see, what's going on.

Their relationship is hardly built on sold ground - there is the Thing that happened at the wedding, some scandal or a revelation so seismic that of course Evie and Richard won't discuss it at all.

Reflecting that fractured relationship, we get instead partial accounts of their final 48 hours on the island, letters written by each to the other, sound recordings, scraps torn from a hotel guest-book and other remnants. Some are incomplete, meaning that sentences break off or whole pages are absent:

"I knew he liked my innocence, and so I wore my

'Slut!' he said, pulling my hair and"

The whole is assembled into an archive letter and offered for our enlightenment. The list of items is given at the start of the book, a list that the reader may assume will guide then through this volume, but it will lead you astray. Apart from the items marked as missing (such as the set of photos) others are absent, or given out of order, or simply incomplete. So from the start we're in unreliable narrator territory, the narrator - or curator - of the story being Evie, who's compiled the documents in this particular case for reasons that only gradually become apparent.

Evie is, as becomes clear, somewhat obsessive, not only about Isabelle but also for example about the "beautiful people", a group of mysterious tourists on the island who are, seemingly, not just beautiful but wealthy, privileged and annoyingly, well, unavailable. With Evie's obsessions and Richard's wandering eye, and the secret they're not talking about, this is an enclosed, almost gothic, atmosphere, with trouble clearly brewing.

But the book is so much more than that. Always good at exploring and analysing the expectations placed on young women (if I can write "young women" without sounding about 150) here Thomas really takes the gloves of to expose stresses, pressures and tensions - as well as predatory males.

I love the way that Thomas presents this story, a many-layered, collusive telling that, in effect, makes everybody a biased witness. It's just revelatory to see the different, self-justifying, partial accounts which it is tempting to try to resolve, perhaps, into a single narrative - even though doing so involves taking sides, making choices, judging, aligning, excusing. Here the bonus is that both Evie and Richard also dodge backward and forward, explaining their earlier lives to try and account for their more recent actions. Sometimes this seems to the point, sometimes it seems to meander. Sometimes one ostensible form of writing gets taken over for another purpose, for example when Evie's attempt at a playscript (she's an actor and writer) veers off to explore a painful episode of her earlier life. (I would give a context warning here for rape references).

The focus is often on the impossible demands, indeed the regular treasons, inflicted on women by men. There are some awful examples cited, from the life-wrecking inflicted on the unfortunate Chloe to a background of trafficking on the holiday island to a sober law professor sitting down a distressed student to tell her not to pursue her allegations against a couple of young men.

The fault line there is that between Evie and Richard, each of whom has secrets both from others and from themselves, the fragmentary structure of the book an ideal way to peel the layers back and reveal all (but also, due to the teasingly incomplete text, not all).

In keeping with the ravelled, incomplete and biased selection of sources we're presented with, the conclusion is also left teasingly unclear. This is a story that blends troubled personal relationships with possible criminal conspiracy, the two acting and reacting in unpredictable ways, and there are various ways we can imagine it resolving - few of them however good.

It's a complex, engaging and passionate story, in many respects a tragedy, the story often carried by what isn't said, by who isn;'t there, by letters that can't be found and things that aren't talked about. Silences can speak volumes, don't you think?

Strongly recommended.

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Thank you to Simon & Schuster for this arc!

When newly-weds Evelyn and Richard arrive at a villa on a Greek island for their honeymoon, things take a dark turn as terrible secrets are revealed.
I flew through this - reading it in three sittings. Thomas’s writing was magnetic; I enjoyed the really creative shifts of formatting, from the disjointed and unfinished epistolary style to the transcripts to the play draft. The suspense and paranoia were balanced and maintained so well, keeping me pushing forward to the next page, eager to discover what everyone could be hiding. I loved not being able to fully trust or understand what was going on (even though I am desperate to learn what exactly happened to everyone), and I thought Thomas introduced each twist in a really natural and convincing way.
I was really pleasantly surprised by this novel. A literary thriller that contorts as much as it gives away, ‘The Sleepwalkers’ is a fantastically contradictory and obtuse book that intrigues, horrifies, chills, and confuses the reader (all complimentary), leaving them hungry for more.
4.25/5!

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So a few days after finishing this and I'm still not sure what to make of it !
When i saw a reference to The White Lotus i was sold and on starting the book it certainly did have white lotus vibes . I could already see this on screen , eccentric characters, Greek Island setting , feeling of tension as you read .... However about half way through the structure and style of the book started to get a bit confusing (maybe it was meant to be this way ??!!). It's part told using a series of letters and then i found some sentences unfinished (intended by the writer I think !) and then skipped to another character and i was getting confused . What starts off as a real mystery turned into something a bit too unbelievable for me and i sort of lost interest .
I did appreciate the writing and I didn't not like the book, I maybe just didn't like it as much as I hoped i would . I'd certainly recommend it to others though as it's one that messes with your brain a bit !

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I really wanted to love this book, set on a Greek island with honeymooners whose relationship was obviously not going well. Unfortunately I didn’t like the females in the book and actually on reflection, the males weren’t much better - especially the husband who was weak and feckless. The story unfolds through a series of letters and timelines but due to the length of the initial letter, this writing technique didn’t really work for me.

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I think my reading of The Sleepwalkers has confirmed for me that I'm simply not a fan of a slow-reveal mystery!

The story is constructed of different letters and transcripts, one of which from the character Evelyn seems to be the longest letter ever written. Would you really leave a 100 page handwritten letter to your husband? The author has also chosen to make it seem like the letters were unfinished or ripped- however, it let me to question whether I had just received a dud copy on my kindle. It was hard to tell whether it was intentional or not.

I did appreciate the language used and the descriptions of the Greek landscape. The atmosphere created was suitably creepy and foreboding, especially with the ominous storm. However, the characters were extremely unlikeable (with one even being referred to simply as 'the dapper man') and everyone seems miserable and rude to each other.

The letters included reveal some context for the readers sake but then omit other parts so the mystery was slowly revealed, leaving a feeling of frustration. Whilst it may appeal to some, I didn't enjoy it or find it comparable to the dark humour of White Lotus.

Thanks NetGalley for the ARC.

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I liked it, but I didn't love it. The style took me a while to get into and I found the story a bit slow paced that I lost interest at times. Overall an interesting premise. I'll look out for other books by this author.

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Epistolary novels are always a bit of a tightrope. How do you explain, particularly in this day and age, why people are writing lengthy letters to each other with pen and paper. In her latest novel The Sleepwalkers, Thomas walks this tightrope, mostly successfully, to deliver an unsettling, gothic mystery that holds its secrets close to its chest.
The Sleepwalkers opens with a list of documents – letters, notes, a transcript and some photographs – with little other explanation. The narrative then works through these although the story they tell is somewhat out of order. The initial framing letter is that written by Evie to her husband Richard as she plans to run out on him during their honeymoon on a Greek Island. The letter tells of a holiday that has gone off the rails, a strange hotel with a tragic recent past (the inexplicable drowning deaths of “the sleepwalkers” of the title) and weird and a series of unsettling events. That letter cuts off and is followed by the first half of an apologetic letter written by Richard which deepens the mystery before the rest of the documents both enlighten and confuse things further.
By the end of The Sleepwalkers it is hard to know exactly what has happened but that is part of the point. The use of the letters, notes and transcripts, give specific points of view. They are specifically designed to tell a story either directly as the character perceives it or, more importantly, how the character wants things to be perceived. What Thomas does really well using this technique is allow readers to root for and understand Evie while keeping open the possibility that she may be lying about some of the events described, given she has reason to.
Despite its bright setting of the Greek Islands, The Sleepwalkers is an intensely gothic novel full of creepy characters and strange goings on. Thomas successfully keeps readers both engaged and interested in getting to the bottom of the mystery and off completely off balance right down to the last, unfinished sentence.

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I enjoyed the use of letters, journal entries and transcripts instead of narrative but just felt there was something lacking. I cannot quite put my finger on what though. Maybe that most of the story was explained right at the end. There were some reveals earlier but not big enough. I also feel that there was not enough accountability for Paul, especially as he and Evie seemed to be normal with each other following the wedding, which seems absurd to me.

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Scarlett Thomas will surprise you with every new book. The Sleepwalkers is at its core a novel told in letters ans documents about a honeymoon gone wrong, very wrong. A dark White Lotus that will have you wonder what is really going on.

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In an unusually constructed tale we follow a period in the lives of two people, just married. We catch up with Richard and Evelyn while they’re honeymooning on a small Greek island, close to the Turkish coast. They seem an ill-matched pair: he rather straight and somewhat pompous, she sharp, self-deprecating and funny. We’re to follow their already disintegrating relationship and their various other travails through a number of documents, starting with a long (very long!) letter written by Evelyn and addressed to her husband. In future we’ll be presented with more letters as well as entries in a hotel’s guest book and even a transcript of a recorded conversation.

The honeymoon is already a strange affair as they’re joined for the first part by Richard’s best friend and his current girlfriend. For the second half of their stay the married couple will transfer to what’s billed as more upmarket accommodation, booked and paid for by Richard’s mother. Their initial accommodation is rough and ready and it’s clearly the end of season, everything is closing down. Nonetheless, everything seems relatively calm – until the pair transfer to their new accommodation, that is. Evelyn quickly becomes suspicious of the attractive girl who greets them and seems to be in charge here. Richard, on the other hand, is clearly taken with her. There are a few other people hanging around the place, but no other guests at this stage.

A mystery will begin to surface, something that’s been in the background but not yet openly talked about. It’s clearly a cause of some tension between the newlyweds. But here the structure of the story started to bug me somewhat, the length of the first letter was irrationally long and then I started to spot sentences that were unfinished in the documents presented. It irritated me as I assumed I’d downloaded a damaged version of the book to my Kindle. I even downloaded it a second time to check if it was a problem in the transfer – no, they were both the same. I carried on, but a series of similar issues cropped up, nearly always at the most inconvenient points. Later, I checked some reviews of the book and it seems that this might well be intended, a quirk or feature of the storytelling. Some readers liked this, they thought it clever, but it just frustrated me and nearly persuaded me to give up on the book.

I did finish the book and I’m now conflicted in my view of it. There are some great passages, sections I though were hilarious or brilliantly described feelings, particularly when it comes to jealousy or frustration with one’s partner. But I didn’t like the fractured way the story was told. Also, I’m not sure I fully believed in the story: there are elements that, to me, seemed too co-incidental or just unrealistically extreme; there’s some really strong writing here, but very average storytelling. I think this is a book that will divide opinions, I’ve already seen some very positive reviews but I think other readers will share my discontentment with some elements. It’s a three star offering for me.

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I’m not sure how I feel about this book. The writing style took me a while to get used too, it’s a mix of letters, journals, lists etc. The story is full of murder, betrayal and sex and a honeymoon that be amazing…

Fab for a book group or holiday read..

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An unusual format with letters and journals playing key roles We follow Evelyn and Richard to a Greek Island at the end of the season as tourists begin to leave and the weather turns They stay at a taverna for the first few days before moving to Isabella's guesthouse it is here that they hear the story of The Sleepwalkers who drowned The twists and turns keep one intrigued throughout but one also has to suspend reality at times to enjoy the escapism.

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I’d enjoyed a couple of Scarlett Thomas’ books years and years ago, and my logic in requesting her new one was that it might be in a similar vein. Either my memory is rather shot, or The Sleepwalkers is something quite different. It’s a bit… odd, really. I realise that isn’t the most descriptive of words but the whole book made me think of a somewhat hallucinatory cross between a theme park ride and jigsaw puzzle; deceit, sexual deviancy, shame, murder, unreliable narrators all bound up (figuratively) like the stacks of letters sold by the mysterious man in the curio shop.

Did I like it? A qualified yes. Did I understand everything that was perhaps going on? More or less, but reading on my kindle proved a slightly fiddly experience. On more than one occasion I thought perhaps the file was corrupted with disjointed sentences but by the end I’d concluded that’s how it’s meant to be. The whole thing reminded me of the type of slick film where you are swept along, and it’s all quite entertaining in a trashy, vaguely absorbing way but when you stop and think a bit about some of the events or motivations of characters, it doesn’t really seem to all hang together. (It didn't bother me so much at the time of reading, but much of the book is composed of letters between people which have supposedly been written over a couple of hours but are so incredibly long that I genuinely don't see how anyone might physically be able to do so....) .

Anyway, a slice of neo-realist gritty urban writing this ain’t; instead it’s a fun, slippery thriller (of sorts) set amid lies and secrets on, for the most part, a storm-lashed Greek island. It held my attention, and I was curious to get to the end to see how (or indeed if) it all resolved, but it didn't leave me fully satisfied and I'm not sure it will remain entirely memorable for me.. (That said, I did enjoy trying to decipher the section in which Evelyn leaves her phone recording, and we the reader are only given the automatic transcription in all its garbled glory)

With thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.

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Thank you to the publishers for the ARC!

"How many ways are there to say a simple sentence, and how hard it is to agree on what the speaker really means."

Evelyn and Richard arrive on a Greek island for their Honeymoon, but they aren't celebrating. Something has gone horribly wrong in their brand new marriage. There's much more going on than just a dysfunctional couple on vacation, however, and it all seems to centre on another couple, "The Sleepwalkers", who are said to have walked into the sea to their deaths the previous year. Over the course of The Sleepwalkers, we are presented with ideas of what really happened through a series of epistolary letters, journal entries, notes and descriptions of photographs, which reveal a complex tapestry of conflicting personalities and motivations.

Scarlett Thomas' strong, vivid prose drew me in right away and I inhaled the book over the course of a few days, always leaning towards it, hoping I'd have time to sit down and read more. The story is fascinatingly told with both intimacy and distance, with a lot of the action happening on the outskirts, described through the eyes of witnesses rather than participants. Evelyn and Richard prove to be deeply complex, deeply flawed and human characters who both frustrated me and won my sympathy to an extent via their own points of view. This book is a melding of unreliable narrators and you're never entirely sure what is true and what is not. It's a beautiful puzzle made chaotic by human nature.

I found the story itself gripping on a basic level and loved trying to piece together the reality behind the testimonies. There were some wonderfully horrible twists and revelations, and the book really made me think about different layers of privilege and oppression, what we see and what we ignore, and I can't wait to read another novel by Scarlett Thomas.

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You know when you mother in law makes you change your honeymoon plans, then things are not going to go well. A couple head to greece on an island but this is no part of paradise for them! I didn't like the characters which added to the drama but they made this novel even darker than it might have been.

The writing style took a bit of getting used to - this is a series of letters etc. Good but in the end, not for me

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Told in mix of letters, journal entries, lists and a deliberately dodgy transcript, The Sleepwalkers is a propulsive, gripping and twisty tale. This will be an immense holiday read - sex, murder, intrigue and betrayal are the perfect mix. At times deliberately opaque, at others there’s a real sense of unreliable narrative and having to read between the lines. I’ll be recommending this to all.

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Evelyn and Richard are on their honeymoon on a Greek island, staying at a seaside hotel – Villa Rosa – paid for by Richard’s mother. The idyllic setting should make for a memorable stay, but things are not what they seem. The relationship between the couple is fraught, hotel owner Isabella appears to go out of her way to spite Evelyn while ingratiating herself with Richard, and there are many strange things happening that do not seem to be adding up. Then there’s the mysterious story of the couple who were staying at the hotel in the previous year, and who died in suspicious circumstances, ostensibly when the husband “sleepwalked” into the rough seas. What exactly did happen, and how is this related to Evelyn and Richard? Matters will come to a head against the dramatic backdrop of a late summer storm, when many secrets are revealed...

It is difficult to review a novel like The Sleepwalkers because much of its effect comes from plot twists which would be ungenerous to reveal. Suffice it to say that, at its heart, this is one of many novels inspired – whether directly or indirectly – by the #MeToo phenomenon and its aftermath. In this respect, this book might not be terribly original – except that the basic plot is subsumed into a wider narrative which, frankly, is so OTT that it makes it difficult to readers to suspend their disbelief. Perhaps this overindulgence is easier to forgive if one considers The Sleepwalkers not only as a thriller (which it is) but also as a contemporary Gothic novel. There are, in fact, several elements in the book which are typical of the genre, not least the gradual revelation of long buried secrets, and its darkly brooding and mysterious atmosphere. Another Gothic element – and, frankly, the one which raises this book above your run-of-the-mill thriller – is its narrative style, based on incomplete “found” documents, including diary-like confessions by unreliable narrators, transcripts of recordings faultily rendered by transcription software, and photographs which are described but not shown.

All in all, this is an gripping exploration of family and sexual relationships, given an unusual twist thanks to its neo-Gothic trappings.

https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2024/02/the-sleepwalkers-by-scarlett-thomas.html

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