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THE SLEEPWALKER
by Chris Bohjalian
Doubleday , January 2017
304 pages
$26.95
ISBN: 038553891X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is a brilliantly told story of familial love, set inside of a thriller based on what disasters can happen when sleepwalking. As always, Bohjalian's descriptions of both internal emotions and thought processes and the external, natural world are exquisite. One of the most detailed and engrossing sequences in the book describes what happens to a body when it moves down a flowing river. It's certainly not a pretty image, but nonetheless the language is beautiful. Each of the character's motivations and thoughts are equally well described, drawing the reader into their stories.

Which brings us to the structure of the book. Bohjalian juxtaposes the longer chapters carrying the narrative forward with italicized short chapters that are clearly the words of one of the sleepwalkers in the book...but which one? The reader is encouraged to imagine that it might be one of many, and then another, and then another, without finding out the identity of the author until the very end.

On to the plot. Annalee Ahlberg sleepwalks when her husband is out of town. On his most recent trip, she disappeared, and no one is sure whether she's dead or alive. Her younger daughter discovered her missing in the morning, causing her older daughter to begin what becomes a new role as head of household by calling 911. Both daughters show signs of sleepwalking themselves. The detective in charge of the case has taken on this role because he is, himself, a sleepwalker–one who knew Annalee from the clinic they both attended. Of the five major characters in the book, only Annalee's husband, who is not a sleepwalker, is not a candidate for writing the journal entries.

What happened to Annalee is not revealed until the end of the novel, when the journal author is also revealed. In the meantime, the way that each of the characters deals with his or her grief and family role is the subject of the narrative. While I was captivated by the mystery, finding it hard to put the book down before I knew the resolution, I was more caught by the way that Bohjalian brought each of the characters, including Annalee, to life. THE SLEEPWALKER brings to mind Bohjalian's earlier book, THE DOUBLE BIND, with its complex plot and unreliable narrator. However, this time around the author plays fair with us with a resolution that both is and is not a surprise.

§ Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, January 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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