Published by Pegasus
Publication date: October 1st 2013
There is nothing more frightening than that which cannot be identified, no engine of fear more powerful than the unknown.
It is 1955 and the psychiatric field is making its first foray into sleep as a treatment for extreme mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar. Dr. James Richardson has been studying the field and written a paper about it when he is summoned by one of the leaders on the subject, Dr. Hugh Maitland. He invites Richardson to work with him at a mental patient facility in the country that is on the cutting edge of this therapy. Richardson agrees and is soon at Wyldehope, an isolated old manor. There he encounters six sleeping women in The Sleep Room, the new novel from F.R. Tallis. Using medication, they are kept asleep for six hours at a time, and then awoken for feeding, the bathroom, and cleaning. They are also given electroshock treatments intermittently. They are supervised at all times by a nurse. All this to, hopefully, cure their disease without a lifetime of shock therapy and medication.
Richardson is left to run the sleep room as well as the two other wards in the hospital. Maitland makes periodic visits from London but the young doctor is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of all the patients. By and large he finds the order and the routine of the hospital offsets the loneliness of the location. Even when confronted with odd noises with no source, doors swinging open and closed on their own and patients and nurses who are afraid of being alone he shrugs it off. Instead, his pursuit of success and his belief in this new therapy means that he also does not question much, including Maitland, despite the fact that the doctor will not discuss the individual history of the women. Their value lies only in being test subjects.
Tallis leads the reader into the drama in much the same way one falls asleep. At first the signs are subtle and the mind takes little notice. As things progress, rationalization is less effective and by the time one is fully asleep the rational has been replaced by dreams or worse, nightmares. Dr. Richardson, is able to talk away his fears for much of the novel, including when he notices the group of women begin dreaming in sync. It is only when lives are in danger that he awakens to what has been going on around him and even then, the reader is left with questions.
A man dreams that he is a butterfly, and in the dream he has no knowledge of his life as a human being. When he wakes up he asks himself two questions: am I man who has just dreamed he is a butterfly? Or am I really a butterfly, now dreaming that I am a man? – Chinese proverb quoted by Wyldehope patient