cover image Sleep, Pale Sister

Sleep, Pale Sister

Joanne Harris. Harper Perennial, $13.95 (380pp) ISBN 978-0-06-078711-0

In the first American release of her 1994 second novel, Chocolat, author Harris dives headlong into a ferocious Gothic ghost story. Henry Chester, the son of a stern Oxford minister and his unapproachable wife, develops an unhealthy interest in virginal young girls and a chloral habit after a life-altering experience during puberty. A gentleman artist of independent means, he disguises his unsavory sexual preference in his painting, frequenting lower class neighborhoods in search of models. On one trip, he encounters the hauntingly beautiful, fatherless Effie .She spends more and more time with Henry as model and protege, and, despite a 23-year age difference, they marry when she's 17. Soon Effie becomes pregnant then miscarries. Though Henry keeps her drugged with laudanum, Effie eventually falls for Moses Harper, a rival painter and ne'er-do-well. Harper in turn introduces her to Fanny Miller, the occultist madam of a brothel that Henry frequents; she mothers the fragile Effie, and this trio cultivates a scheme to deal the despicable Henry a loaded hand. The pages fly by through multiple plot twists in a wash of drugs, ghosts and illicit sex in a tale that easily ranks among the best of the genre.