I would like to thank Net Galley and Bookouture for my advance copy of ‘Sleep Sister’ by Laura Elliot in exchange for my review.
Beth and Sara are sisters, growing up in the small town of Anaskeagh in Ireland. Two young girls who lead very different lives. Sara is the apple of her Mother’s eye, the perfect child who can do no wrong, unlike her older sister Beth. Beth favours her father, a musician with a fanciful mind who ultimately leaves the family home and heads off to Dublin. Beth is afraid of her Mother and ‘Charlie’ the cane she uses to punish her daughter for her wrong doings, and dreams of the time she can be reunited with her Father. But there is a greater threat nearby, a monster that visits Beth at night, frightening her much more than Charlie ever could, an unspeakable evil which dominates and decimates her childhood.
When Beth reaches the age of sixteen she makes the decision to flee Anaskeagh, to follow her father to Dublin, leaving Sara and her mother behind. As she struggles to settle into her Father’s new family, Beth tries hard to keep contact with her young sister, not understanding why she has rejected her so wholly. It is only after her Uncle insists upon her ailing father being taken back to Anaskeagh to die, when Beth finally sees Sara again, that she begins to understand that the monster did not fade away when she left home, it simply found itself new prey.
As one new life begins, another slowly starts to unravel, the beginning of the end. When the burden of a secret shared becomes too much for Sara, the decision she takes leads Beth to understand that you cannot simply ignore what has come to pass, that the sins of the past must be confronted and exposed in order for them all to find true peace. Eva’s arrival in Anaskeagh in search of the truth about her birth mother, and a series of chance meetings and coincidences, will lead to an inevitable showdown between Beth, Eva and the man who could have ruined all of their lives.
Sleep Sister is far more than a tale of abuse, of childhoods destroyed at the hands of someone the girls should have been able to trust. It is the story of a survivor and a fighter. Beth is a strong woman, someone determined not to allow her past to consume her, and someone who could inspire others in a similar position. Although her path after leaving Anaskeagh is not an easy one, she ultimately finds her own version of happiness. Her journey is well observed and, while not necessarily always what you might call a comfortable read, I found myself rooting for her and hoping that, in the end, her abuser would get the comeuppance he deserved. As a character, Sara is more of an enigma, and you only get glimpses of her character, her reactions to Beth hard to fathom until the full extent of what happened after Beth left is revealed.
There are elements of this book which could be a trigger for anyone sensitive to issues surrounding child abuse, but it is not dealt with in any graphic or gratuitous way. That said, there is no doubt as to the nature or identity of the monster which plagues Beth’s childhood, or the reasons for her to struggle with intimacy as she gets to know Stewart and Peter. Her mother’s reluctance to hear the truth is fully believable, as it would be a hard thing to stomach in such a traditional Catholic family.
It is easy to be sympathetic towards Beth and Eva. Both have experienced their own versions of loss, the impact of which comes across quite clearly in the narrative. Sara is harder to feel anything for, but simply because you do not really get to know her. When the reader sees her as a young child she seems spoilt and precious and yet her reality by the time she reaches adulthood is far different and you would need a hard heart not to ultimately feel for her and the decision she takes.
The work is very well written, evocative and certainly makes you think hard about the danger of believing someone simply because they hold a position of power. With the stories of abuse by people in the public eye of late, this is a highly topical subject, handled very sensitively, and while the abuser does not get the traditional justice, his fall from grace is very fitting. I can’t call this a heart-warming story or even try and convince that there is a true HEA ending, as to expect that would belittle the power of the story itself. The ending does give a glimpse of hope, Beth finally confessing all of her darkest secrets to her husband, and allowing the freedom that sharing that burden brings to carry her onward.
I would highly recommend this book, not only due to the strength of the story but the beauty of the writing. Through her prose Elliot has captured the spirit of a closed knit community, in a very traditional Ireland extremely well and swiftly and competently carries the reader on a long and sometimes heart wrenching journey. It was a book that I found myself wanting to race to the end of but also not, wanting the experience to last as long as possible.