SLEEPWALKING by Julie Myerson


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 In this British debut, a convincing character has an unconvincing affair. The gimmick: Said character is very pregnant. Presumably intended to be shocking, the scenes of narrator Susan's pregnant extramarital sex are on the whole less accomplished than her imaginings of her cruel father's own unhappy upbringing. The novel opens just after her father has gassed himself to death with carbon monoxide and, as a final divisive act, left his entire inheritance to daughter Penny, excluding her sisters, Susan and Sara. Susan, it becomes clear, has been moving somnolently through life with her dunderhead husband, Alistair, and only when she is close to giving birth does she come alive, through an affair with an American artist named Lenny. At the same time, she begins to have visions of the ghost of a small boy wandering through her London home. He turns out to be her father, who had suffered at the hands of his mother, a bizarre woman who once maliciously served Susan and her sisters pancakes with pins in them. These glimpses of the past are the strongest sections here, even though they occasionally go too far and make the characters unpalatable rather than interestingly gruesome. Other passages are less successful. A description of how Susan finds Alistair's solidity comforting during their courtship is sharp with detail, nicely revealing how her father's strange ways have conditioned her, but her accidental pregnancy is dismissed in a sentence: ``And that was it, the end of freedom and choice.'' Likewise, the cuckolded Alistair and the slightly pretentious Lenny are colorless compared to Susan's father and grandmother. The choppy structure serves the subject well, however. Although her narration is intensely self-focused, Susan never becomes whiny or self-pitying about her dismal existence, and Myerson's depiction of her pregnancy is full of lifelike discomfort. Patchy, but more successful than most takes on dysfunctional family life (and afterlife). (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 1995
ISBN: 0-385-47506-3
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1994


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