Romy Hausmann’s debut novel, Dear Child, was a huge success in the UK and her native Germany. A year on, and she’s back, this time with an equally disturbing psychological thriller – Sleepless.
But will it live up to the heights of previous success?
Years ago, Nadja was convicted for mercilessly killing her mother, despite constantly pleading her innocence. After being freed, all she wants is to settle down into a regular routine; a flat, a steady job and a couple of friends. However, when one of those friends, Laura – the wife of Nadja’s boss, kills her secret lover, she begs Nadja for help.
The two head out to the remote woods looking for the perfect burial ground. But their plans are quickly unravelled as Nadja sees herself as a pawn in a mysterious and murderous game.
Unravelling the Puzzle
The first one hundred pages are a complete mystery. There’s so much back and forth between narratives and tenses that it’s difficult to follow. Clearly, this was Hausmann’s intention, given that it then begins to piece together better.
The story swaps from current day events and Nadja’s previous account of her mother’s death. It’s worth noting that her mother was a prostitute and implied that Nadja was an accident with one of her clients.
This serves to fuel Nadja’s own self-hatred towards her mother, and those that come to visit her.
Every so often, it’s inferred that her mother was killed by a customer known as ‘Uncle Fedor‘, who used to visit her after he’d finished work. This seems to stick with her because he brought her a chocolate bar on the day of her death.
Uncle Fedor was also first on the scene as an acting officer when the neighbours’ complaints were first dealt with.
Introducing multiple characters in different fragments of stories – a past childhood experience, present-day lover’s revenge, and a concurrent parallel story – does mean that concentration needs to be at the utmost to enjoy this one.
In this instance, I think this style has been better executed by Gillian Flynn in Dark Places. Equally, I didn’t find the side-story engaging. It didn’t really have an outcome that added to the plot – metaphorical or otherwise.
That said, the book’s initial section mirrors Nadja’s vague memories, leaving gaps in stories and later refilling them with new information. But how trustworthy are these details?
An unreliable narrator is nothing new in mystery-thrillers, but it’s refreshing to see one that doesn’t lie from the get-go, and the whole story is set up as a sham.
My biggest problem with the book is that the twists were easily foreseen. Sure, there are a few twists and turns, but the major plot points are pretty telegraphed. In contrast to Dear Child, where these points were well hidden, it feels substandard by her previous high standards.
Overall, I liked the book; it’s just that it didn’t set my reading on fire as Dear Child did. Sleepless does come together in the end, but the journey there is a cluttered one.
It’s a complex mystery-thriller that has a few too many characters that add little to the end payoff. If the focus had been more on Nadja and Laura, I would have enjoyed it more. That said, there’s still plenty of whodunit moments and a lot of speculating as to what might happen.
Have you read either of Romy Hausmann’s books? Did you enjoy them? Let me know in the comments below.