“When promising psychiatrist, James Richardson, is offered the job opportunity of a lifetime, he is thrilled. Setting off to take up his post at Wyldehope Hall in deepest Suffolk, Richardson doesn’t look back. One of his tasks is to manage a controversial project – a pioneering therapy in which extremely disturbed patients are kept asleep for months. As Richardson settles into his new life, he begins to sense something uncanny about the sleeping patients – six women, forsaken by society. Why is the trainee nurse so on edge when she spends nights alone with them? And what can it mean when all the sleepers start dreaming at the same time? It’s not long before Richardson finds himself questioning everything he knows about the human mind as he attempts to uncover the shocking secrets of The Sleep Room“
I read this book pretty much non-stop over two days whilst basking in the sunlight in my parents garden. I really fell into the book. I think others would find the pace slow, but I quite liked sinking into the sedated (get it?) atmosphere of the hospital and the lives that tick along there. I could really see this being turned into a feature length TV drama by the BBC for a Sunday evening showing.
The idea of the induced sleep therapy alone is unsettling. Despite the claims of the Doctors about treatment and progress, keeping someone asleep for day after day seems like a horrible form of imprisonment. Then you add in a series of spooky incidents and the pace picks up little by little.
I was really enjoying it, and even as I drew close to the final pages I was even satisfied with how it was ending. Not all my questions were answered, nor was everything completely spelled out for me but there were enough answers and theories presented that made sense of most of the weird goings on.
And if I stopped reading 5 pages before the end of the book I would be recommending it without reservation, but right at the last minute there was a twist that really spoiled my enjoyment of it, which I want to discuss. So do not read on if you don’t want to know the twist.
This is your final SPOILER WARNING!
OK, so the twist was it was all a dream! Dr Richardson was a patient all along in the sleep clinic and the whole book was his dream.
It was such a let down. It rendered most of what I read pointless.
I tried to think if there had been any set up, any foreshadowing or clues that he was dreaming all along. Dreams were a major theme of the story and the characters did have discussions on how do you know the difference between a dream and reality. Richardson shares his vivid daydreams of a future marriage with one of the nurses. But other than these there were no hints that Richardson’s entire world was imaginary.
Unless you argued that all the instances of supernatural occurrences show he was dreaming because strange things can happen in dreams. Except of course in dreams you accept the supernatural or don’t notice it at all.
So with little to no set up the ‘it was all a dream’ feels like a cheap trick. I was also disappointed because before the twist I was really impressed with the ending I almost had.
More spoilers coming here:
During his work Richardson had one by one found out the life stories of the six sleeping patients. Each one had a terrible story; trauma, abuse, poverty, depression, violence, babies lost, abandonment.
Slowly Richardson began to realise that in dreams we can imagine things more terrible and more horrifying than anything we might ever experience in real life. By keeping these women who have suffered plenty in real life, in a deep continual sleep are they actually locking them into nightmares for months at a time. Nightmares that would be more terrifying than any ‘healthy’ person would experience.
Now this idea and what hidden powers these sleepers might harness to escape their sleep prison is much more interesting and satisfying to me, than the idea that the Doctor was dreaming all along.
So yeah, if I could just remove those last five pages I would recommend this book. But that is just me. Maybe there are people out there who get the ‘it was all a dream’ ending and loved it. Maybe there is something I am just not getting here.