Fiction Reviews


The Sleep Room

(2013) F. R. Travis, Pan, 7.99, pbk, 384pp, ISBN 978-1-447-20499-2

 

In the mid-1950s young psychiatrist James Richardson is offed a chance to work with one of his heroes Hugo Maitland. He gains a position at Wyldehope Hall, a psychiatric hospital. Within this building, there is a room with six woman spend the time in an state of induced sleep. Maitland hopes that this will cure their psychological problems. But while Richardson is placed in charge for longer periods, he starts to notice strange and odd events starting to happen.

I think the setting of the 1950s brings a lot to this novel. It does capture the period without having to keep shoving cultural details in. Travis does create a feeling of the optimism of the post-war years coming up against reality. The narrators' relationship with Maitland as he realises that his hero may be mortal is handled very well.

All the pieces in the novel appear to be ready for a good period ghost/horror story. This is where I started to have difficulties with the text. It feels too by-the-numbers. There are the familiar touches, things going missing, figures glimpsed that indicate something is going wrong. Yet, the novel starts to feel too conventional. There is the idea that the sleeping woman are acting out their revenges and anger, but as we only mostly know them from their case histories, not their voices, the potential does not take flight.

The problem that I have with this novel is that it feels too timid. In the extras section of the novel after the main text, the author Tallis writes that he thinks that the hardest to achieve with a horror novel is the suspension of disbelief. While this is a reason for the novel to try to be low key, this just results in something that you wait to start building up, but just seems to be stuck on a low level. I realise that suspension of disbelief is difficult to do, but there have been writers who have pulled off wilder premises, such as NOS4R2 by Joe Hill. The premise for the novel already give a reality-based setting and characters, to start playing around with, but it is almost as if Tallis is afraid to exploit the potential of his narrative . Instead we get one minor climax, another ending stuck on and then another one for good measure.

David Allkins


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