by Scarlett Thomas
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Pub Date 17 Jul 2024 | Archive Date 11 Mar 2024
Simon and Schuster UK, Scribner UK
Patricia Highsmith meets White Lotus in this compulsive and brilliant gothic thriller
‘Like a darker, funnier The White Lotus, The Sleepwalkers is horrifying in the best possible way. I loved every moment of it.’ James Smythe
‘The Sleepwalkers is brilliant, savage and hilarious. The voice is so strong and so distinctive from the get-go, so bold and pitilessly funny. There is no whingeing here, just a fearless takedown which I read through in a single streak of pure delight. This is Scarlett's best yet, and I don't say that lightly.’ Bidisha Mamata
'The Sleepwalkers is never-endingly surprising and full of keen observations on relationships, politics, and art. Thomas makes real life so fraught with meaning, it feels hauntingly supernatural. A twisty Gothic tale of vertiginous depths and haunting power.' Sandra Newman, author of Julia
‘Muriel Spark’s disreputable niece’ Spectator
Still reeling from the chaos of their wedding, Evelyn and Richard arrive on a tiny Greek island for their honeymoon. It’s the end of the season and a storm is imminent. Determined to make the best of it, they check into the sun-soaked doors of the Villa Rosa. Already feeling insecure after seeing the 'beautiful people,' the seemingly endless number of young models and musicians lounging along the Mediterranean, Evelyn is wary of the hotel’s owner, Isabella, who seems to only have eyes for Richard.
Isabella ostensibly disapproves of every request Evelyn makes, seemingly annoyed at the fact that they are there at all. Isabella is also preoccupied with her chance to enthral the only other guests — an American producer named Marcus and his partner Debbie — with the story of 'the sleepwalkers,' a couple who had stayed at the hotel recently and drowned. Everyone seems to want to talk about the sleepwalkers, but what at first seemed eccentric, decorative, or simply ridiculous, becomes a living nightmare. Evelyn and Richard are separated the night of the storm and forced to face dark truths, but it’s their confessions around the origins of their relationship and the years leading up to their marriage that might save them.
Exhilarating, suspenseful, and subversively funny, The Sleepwalkers asks urgent questions about relationships, sexuality, and the darkest elements of contemporary society — where our most terrible secrets are hidden in plain sight.
‘She's a genius’ Douglas Coupland
‘Thomas has the mesmerising power of a great story teller.’ Financial Times
‘One of the most startling, unpredictable writers of her generation’ Scotsman
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 29 members
The Sleepwalkers follows a newly married couple who’ve been booked into a hotel on a small Greek Island as a wedding present, finding themselves the only guests at the end of the season. When they check in, the Villa Rosa’s owner greets Richard warmly, almost flirtatiously, but gives Evie the cold shoulder. A revelation made at their wedding has made them both feel their relationship is doomed, made worse by the discovery that another couple drowned recently, one attempting to save the other who slept walked into the sea. When two other guests turn up, interested in turning the sleepwalkers’ story into a movie, things take a decidedly odd turn.
I’m wary of saying too much about this gripping novel which plays with the thriller genre, leaving its readers handing on by their fingertips. Thomas presents her story as a series of documents – letters, transcripts, notebook pages – some written by Evie, some by Richard, others by hotel guests – several fragmented. Evie is a particularly pleasing unreliable narrator and it’s her letters that make up the bulk of the story, small bombshells let off as she tries to piece what happened to the sleepwalkers and why, while telling us her own story. I thoroughly enjoyed this clever smartly constructed novel, its tension kept taut right up to the end.
One thing Scarlett Thomas's books never are is formulaic. The Sleepwalkers is the tale of newly-weds Richard and Evelyn and their ill-starred Honeymoon. Already uneasy as her mother-in-law has not only paid for the trip but also chosen the time and location Evelyn is less than thrilled to to find that there's a big storm approaching,insecure to find the place full of "the beautiful people" and taken aback when their Hotel's owner ignores her while having very obvious designs on Richard. Things can only get better.....except they don't,they get a whole lot worse as the couple learn of deaths the previous year and the plans of a pair of very strange filmmakers to dramatise the fatal event.
The story is told in the format of letters left by the couple for each other after being split up with their version of events on their honeymoon,dark,surreal and horrific events. Also revealed in the letters as the tale unfolds are their personal histories, let's just say that theirs was not the average romance.
As you'd expect from Scarlett Thomas there are plenty of surprises, a lot of dark humour and quirky and oddball characters are the norm.
Great fun and excellent entertainment.
4-5 stars rounded up
Evelyn and Richard are on a small Greek island for their honeymoon, but it’s the end of the season and a storm is brewing in more ways than one. Perhaps it’s that Isabella, the hotel owner, only has eyes for Richard or that Isabella wants to impress an American couple, or maybe that all anyone wants to talk about, is “the sleepwalkers” an married couple who drowned in the sea the previous year. Perhaps too, it’s that the fates do not align for Evelyn and Richard, the omens certainly aren’t good. This fascinating novel is chiefly written in letter form which heightens the mystery and suspense.
I knew I’d enjoy this as I love the original and creative way that Scarlett Thomas writes and have greatly enjoyed her other books. This is a multilayered novel, those layers cleverly revealing themselves a little bit at a time. There’s tension and strain from the get go, it’s stormy, moody, troubled, and ominous from the beginning. There are off notes, some that are disturbing, it’s odd, strange and weird at the Villa Rosa and you sense that immediately. This is further heightened by some baffling incidents, there are games being played here, and it seems that Evelyn and maybe Richard are not privy to the rules. The tone becomes increasingly foreboding, there’s danger in the air, and it feels prophetic, and the building storm intensifies the situation, which certainly escalates.
I love the way the author tells the story as the letters allow some suspenseful cliffhangers and it becomes clear that there is a very big secret which is tantalising. The storytelling becomes increasingly dark as these secrets start to bubble to the surface, and they’re bad, very bad and it all starts to make awful sense. Both main characters become honest and there’s a rawness to it. It’s also interesting that the reader knows more than Evelyn does at several points through Richard’s letters. . There is some powerful imagery which adds to the intensity and I enjoy the occasional use of dark humour. The setting on the Greek island is fantastic and the end of season atmosphere along with the weather allows the author a lot of scope.
What of the characters? It’s fair to say they are not easy to like, but what is also true is that they are very complex and exceptionally well portrayed. Although the letters do change my perspective, especially on Evelyn as the realisation dawns that others have few merits.
Overall, this is a unique, twisty and very different story, it’s certainly an enigmatic puzzle which I thoroughly enjoy.
With thanks to NetGalley, and especially to Simon and Schuster, for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.