Sleep Before Evening
Coming from a family of voracious readers, It has become of late, increasingly difficult to lay my hands on an original read.
Yes I have been known to ‘google’ in search of new authors, fresh titles and the promise of a new perspective. In such manner, I subscribed to the reader’s friend, The Compulsive Reader as an easy fix for all that promises to be new and untouched. And it was happily, on my fourth or so visit that I encountered it’s creator – the vivacious and omnipotent Maggdalena Ball.
At this time, my eye was caught by an offer. Maggie (to her friends, subscribers and those who have managed to get a free copy of her debut novel, Sleep Before Evening by suggesting that their local library order a copy), had produced a debut novel. ‘Googling’ pronounced it as ‘brilliant, insightful and rich with characterisation’.
I ordered a copy through local library and eagerly awaited it’s arrival – a new and exciting debut from a female Australian Author to add to my literary belt.
Taking the soft cover home, my first impressions were low key. The cover appeared to scream independent publisher – definitely functional and no frills. Thumbing through the pages, though, I was pleasantly surprised by the first chapters and the image of a realistic, dysfunctional family emerging from the plain typeface.
The story in a nutshell, is not a new one. A neglected, essentially fatherless, almost-18 year old quickly establishes herself as the main source of familial angst. Despite the constraints on her ‘development’, Marianne Cotton is portayed as a have, rather than a have not, with a musical genius on the piano, deft chess moves and a doting ex-Professor Grandfather, Eric.
Her alcoholic, haphazard mother, Lily is an Artist. Through no fault of her own Lily, self-obsesses to the extent that she demands to play the role of the Prima Donna, around which all the other characters have danced, all of Marianne’s short life. A succession of equally immature and self-indulgent men are the only male role models that Marianne knows. Except for Eric, of course. Nurturing his Granddaughters intellect, musical genius and soul, have been his role, until he suddenly suffers a stroke one day, during a chess game with Marianne.
From here on, the story quickly descends into a mire of teenage self doubt, loathing and anger of betrayal. Marianne is off to NYU on a scholarship the following year. But when her mother and then partner decide to turn off her Grandfather’s life support, skipping school, leads to an indulgent depression, which in turn, steers her towards the streets of New York and the entrenched music scene.
Upon meeting Miles, an up and coming jazz musician, ironically, Marianne begins to act more like one would have imagined her ditzy mother to have been in her teen years and succumbs to the heady freedom of drugs, dossing on her acquaintance’s doorstep and degradation as a means of avoiding her demons.
As the narrative progresses in what some have described as a Dostoyevskyesque haze of addiction, anst and half-realisation, the strong imagery evoked too readily the world that is commonly experienced by many of today’s teens…to the point that it sickened me.
Around two thirds of the way through the book, irked by the repetitive addictive love for the ‘white lady’, I could no longer continue. The book was like witnessing one’s parents having sex (not that I’ve ever done that), or smelling a homeless person’s breath in your face, whilst they beg for a dollar. Not pleasant to say the least. I was no longer enjoying Maggie’s clever evocation of the seedy side of The Big Apple.
Unlike Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the book lost me. Whilst hard going, Crime and Punishment was, to me like an endurance test, with a reward at the end and a psychological intensity that is mesmerising.
Yes, Sleep Before Evening is a cleverly contrived and some may say pertinent portrayal of how, even good girls, can easily get sucked into the druggie’s lair, it left me feeling sapped. At one point, I was frighteningly close to venturing out myself to score some crack, so strongly was the lure of the high evoked.
Shaking myself out of this mood however, I could not bring myself to finish the book, a rare event for book-loving me. Disturbing to the max, this novel is not one for a sunshiney, picnic-blanket reverie in the park and for those squeamish about the subject, I would caution against reading it.
Sadly today there is too much challenge and in-your-face realism. Whatever happened to escapism? Reading for fun? Nowadays I am too busy to spend my precious spare moments, drowning in the fountain of this style of writing. Give me an episode of Bones any day…