No one who reads this site has any doubt that fantasy is my jam. Witches. Vampires. Demons. Ghosts. Fae. Dragons. I love it all. I also love a good thriller. So, While You Sleep should be a book I adored. After all, the entire premise is a haunted house and a mysterious death on a remote Scottish island. It all but screamed my name.
Unfortunately, as so many things in life, While You Sleep is missing that “it” factor that allows a mediocre book to become unforgettable. Rather, it is one of those books I finished and promptly forgot until I reread the synopsis in preparation for writing this review. It is not any one thing that dooms the book either. Instead, it dies by a thousand papercuts – or the literary equivalent.
For one thing, Ms. Merritt relies too heavily on the possibility of an unreliable narrator in Zoe. As we learn all the reasons why Zoe left the U.S., we must question her version of events, or so Ms. Merritt would have us believe. The thing is, I never bought into Zoe’s unreliability, and so everything that occurs in the house never becomes anything but a ghostly mystery.
Without the possibility of an unreliable narrator, enough crazy events happen to Zoe in her vacation house that should make While You Sleep a crazy ghost story, and it is. However, something happens along the way that is even a bit more than I was willing to accept. Ms. Merritt attempts to stay on that fine line of possibility versus probability by never actually introducing a ghost, something that drives me crazy in novels. It is a bit like having your cake and eating it too. If you are going to create a ghost story, then stand by that decision and stick with it. Do not create a ghost story and then never explain the ghost or try to pretend that it might all be in the narrator’s mind but probably not. She provides very heavy hints as to what is happening to Zoe, but she never actually comes out and says it. Plus, even at the end, long after anyone is willing to believe in Zoe’s unreliability, she still tries to convince readers that the entire story could still be a from Zoe’s unstable mind. Just…no.
I wanted to like While You Sleep. I wanted it to scare me in that delicious way a good ghost story can. Instead, I read a mildly entertaining story that tries too hard to put doubt into the reader’s mind and loses its way. I finished it to get answers, even as those answers left me disgruntled and disappointed. There is promise within the pages though that would make me willing to try another one of Ms. Merritt’s novels, although I would approach it cautiously just in case.