Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
There are novelists who cannot get their heads around poetry, and others who find writing at a shorter length almost impossible. Some writers of literary prose have problems when it comes to writing for children, playwrights who have issues with novels. While there are a few, very talented authors who seem to be able to turn their hand to anything most find the format that suits their style and temperament and make a success of it. The information given in this book suggests that Abel has produced a handful of books for children before embarking on this project, that this is his first book for the adult market. It’s a big leap between the two, Abel hasn’t made it.
The premise behind this novel is an interesting one. There is a condition known as sleep paralysis in which the sufferer, at the point of waking is unable to move and feels as if they are being suffocated by a great weight. The result can be a form of panic attack. In this novel, the suggestion is that this is actually a form of supernatural attack and an entity is trying to steal the victim’s soul. Only fighting into wakefulness can the assault be repelled.
Lance Lewisham is a target of these attacks. The reason he discovers is because he was unwanted. His mother hadn’t intended to get pregnant with him and gave him away at birth. Because he was unwanted, his soul should not have been issued and the supernatural entities referred to as The Sleeping, want it back. They haven’t succeeded because he has always been protected, first by the nun that found him a home, then his adoptive parents, and now his wife. The person assigned to retrieve it is an old man. Ambrose Green initially committed suicide in 1929 but has been resurrected for this purpose. This could have been a powerful sinister novel. It isn’t. Although the interactions between characters are well observed, they ultimately lacked depth.
The biggest problems with the book relate to the style. There are many awkward sentences, something that would have been spotted if the author had read passages aloud. This makes the prose very stilted. While there is a lot of back-ground given about the individual characters it tends to come in large blocks instead of being disseminated throughout the story. It is only necessary to give the reader information when it is needed and not in info-dumps, especially as some of it is repeated further on in the text. Scenes are often very short and point of view changes are frequent, sometimes within the same paragraph with the occasional tendency for it to become authorial. As a result, any sympathy that there might be for a character is dissipated and especially towards the end where the climax is, there is a distinct lack of tension.
Another issue is sense of place. Other than a mention of an abbey being demolished by Henry VIII, there is nothing to indicate whether this is Europe, the USA or even Australia. Descriptions in a supernatural novel need to be dark and rich to rack up the tension and to generate a sense of place and time. There are sex scenes here but they are coy and unconvincing. There is no passion in them. There are also problems with the rationale behind the main plot thread. While it is entirely plausible for a man to have a secret hideaway which his wife knows nothing about, to have the alternative personality in rational conversation with self didn’t ring true. It could have been much more subtly executed. The impression given is that there is only one unwanted soul on the loose, Lance’s, yet there a\re plenty of other unwanted children and despite his conception, from birth onwards, Lance was wanted. The theological question then, is when does a human acquire a soul – is it at conception, or birth, or at some point in between. The book’s title, which does it no favours, suggests birth as this is the date of Lance’s birth.
It is a shame that such a promising idea hasn’t come to a satisfactory fruition. This is not a book I can recommend to the discerning reader.