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While You Sleep

Review

While You Sleep

What makes a good scary story? A haunted house? A vicious murder? A psychological mystery? Perhaps old lore and legends? In WHILE YOU SLEEP, author Stephanie Merritt includes all of this and more to tell the tale of Zoe Adams, a woman haunted in many ways and terrified by a number of phenomena, both real and imagined.

Zoe arrives on an unnamed small Scottish island in the fall, hoping to put a little distance between herself and her life in the United States. She is already missing her 10-year-old son, Caleb, but doesn’t feel the same about her husband, Dan. She thinks that being isolated in the coastal house she has rented will give her time to paint and to contemplate. The house she found online, owned and recently renovated by Mick and Kaye Drummond, is locally known as the McBride house, so named for the family who built it. Mick, a descendant of the McBrides, warns Zoe not to listen to any superstitious tales that the island community might share with her. But almost immediately she begins to hear stories about Ailsa McBride, her hidden son, their deaths, and the curse she left on the house.

"...a fun, at times sexy, read with some real creepiness and a few good surprises.... [Merritt's] writing is interesting and evocative, with lovely phrasing and description."

On her first night there, Zoe understands why people might think it’s haunted. Though at first she chalks up her strange and sensual dreams, and the scratching noises she hears, to jet lag and her unfamiliar surroundings, Zoe finds that they only intensify over the coming days. Charles Joseph, a local bookstore owner and an expert on the McBride family, lets Zoe in on what Mick doesn’t want her to know: rumors of sexual experimentation, dark magic and the supernatural. Even armed with that information, Ailsa remains an enigmatic figure, and Zoe struggles against what she is seeing and hearing: a cloaked figure who seems to watch her and follow her wherever she goes, singing in Gaelic and telling her to leave the house.

Like many a hapless horror novel protagonist, Zoe convinces herself to stay, trying to find logical explanations for her experiences. However, as the pages turn, things escalate, and Merritt presents various possibilities. It may be that the McBride house is haunted, but it also may be true that someone is out to get Zoe. And it may be the case as well that Zoe represents that other horror trope: the hysterical woman.

Tension and danger mount, yet Zoe is inextricably connected to the house and its secrets, and drawn to the young local teacher Edward. All the while, she wrestles with her commitment to Dan and her feelings for her son. Will she survive the McBride house, and what is really the source of its power and peril?

WHILE YOU SLEEP may not hold much that is fully original in terms of themes or plot twists. But it is a fun, at times sexy, read with some real creepiness and a few good surprises. Merritt chose the Scottish cliffs well; the landscape contributes to the atmosphere and gives Zoe additional challenges to face. Her writing is interesting and evocative, with lovely phrasing and description. Overall, this is an enjoyable, if a bit contrived, scary story.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 15, 2019

While You Sleep
by Stephanie Merritt

  • Publication Date: March 5, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Gothic, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books
  • ISBN-10: 1643130056
  • ISBN-13: 9781643130057