Sleep, Pale Sister

Sleep, Pale Sister

by Joanne Harris
Sleep, Pale Sister

Sleep, Pale Sister

by Joanne Harris


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Before the sweet delight of Chocolat, before the heady concoction that is Blackberry Wine, and before the tart pleasures of Five Quarters of the Orange, bestselling author Joanne Harris wrote Sleep, Pale Sister — a gothic tourde-force that recalls the powerfully dark sensibility of her novel Holy Fools.

Originally published in 1994 — and never before available in the United States — Sleep, Pale Sister is a hypnotically atmospheric story set in nineteenth century London. When puritanical artist Henry Chester sees delicate child beauty Effie, he makes her his favorite model and, before long, his bride. But Henry, volatile and repressed, is in love with an ideal. Passive, docile, and asexual, the woman he projects onto Effie is far from the woman she really is. And when Effie begins to discover the murderous depths of Henry's hypocrisy, her latent passion will rise to the surface.

Sleep, Pale Sister combines the ethereal beauty of a Pre-Raphaelite painting with a chilling high gothic tale and is a testament to Harris's brimming cornucopia of talents.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060787110
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 08/30/2005
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.95(d)

About the Author

Joanne Harris is the author of seven previous novels—Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, Coastliners, Holy Fools, Sleep, Pale Sister, and Gentlemen & Players; a short story collection, Jigs & Reels; and two cookbook/memoirs, My French Kitchen and The French Market. Half French and half British, she lives in England.

Read an Excerpt

Sleep, Pale Sister

By Joanne Harris

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Joanne Harris
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060787112

Chapter One

Don't look at me that way -- I can't bear it! You're thinking how much I have changed. You see the young man in the picture, his clear, pale brow, curling dark hair, his untroubled eyes -- and you wonder how he could be me. The carelessly arrogant set of the jaw, the high cheekbones, the long, tapered fingers seem to hint at some hidden, exotic lineage, although the bearing is unmistakably English. That was me at thirty-nine -- look at me carefully and remember . . . I could have been you.

My father was a minister near Oxford, my mother the daughter of a wealthy Oxfordshire landowner. My childhood was untroubled, sheltered, idyllic. I remember going to church on Sundays, singing in the choir, the coloured light from the stained-glass windows like a shower of petals on the white surplices of the choristers . . .

The black angel seems to shift imperceptibly and, in her eyes, I sense an echo of the pitiless comprehension of God. This is not a time for imagined nostalgia, Henry Paul Chester. He needs your truth, not your inventions. Do you think to fool God?

Ridiculous, that I should still feel the urge to deceive, I who have lived nothing but a life of deceit for over forty years. The truth is a bitter decoction: I hate to uncork it for this last meeting. And yet I am what I am. For the first time I can dare to take God's words for myself. This is no sweetened fiction. This is Henry Chester: judge me if you wish. I am what I am.

There was, of course, no idyllic childhood. My early years are blank: my memories begin at age seven or eight; impure, troubled memories even then as I felt the serpent grown within me. I do not remember a time when I was not conscious of my sin, my guilt: no surplice, however white, could hide it. It gave me wicked thoughts, it made me laugh in church, it made me lie to my father and cross my fingers to extinguish the lie.

There were samplers on the wall of every room of our house, embroidered by my mother with texts from the Bible. Even now I see them, especially the one in my room, stark on the white wall opposite my bed: I am that I am. As I passed the summers and winters of my boyhood, in my moments of peace and the contemplation of my solitary vices I watched that sampler, and sometimes, in my dreams, I cried out at the cruel indifference of God. But I always received the same message, stitched now for ever in the intricate patterns of my memory: I am that I am.

My father was God's man and more frightening to me than God. His eyes were deep and black, and he could see right into the hidden corners of my guilty soul. His judgement was as pitiless and impartial as God's own, untainted by human tenderness. What affection my father had he lavished on his collection of mechanical toys, for he was an antiquarian of sorts and had a whole room filled with them, from the very simplest of counterweighted wooden figures to the dreamlike precision of his Chinese barrel-organ with its hundred prancing dwarves.

Of course, I was never allowed to play with them -- they were too precious for any child -- but I do remember the dancing Columbine. She was made of fine porcelain and was almost as big as a three-year-old child. Father told me, in one of his rare moments of informality, that she was made by a blind French craftsman in the decadent years before the Revolution. Running his fingers across her flawless cheek, he told me the story: how she had belonged to some spoiled king's bastard brat, abandoned among rotting brocades when the Terror struck and godless heads rolled with the innocent. How she was stolen by a pauper woman who could not bear to see her smashed and trampled by the sans-culotte. The woman had lost her baby to the famine and kept Columbine in a cradle in her poor hovel, rocking her and singing lullabies until they found her, mad and starving and alone, and took her away to the asylum to die.

Columbine survived. She arrived in a Paris antiquarian's the year I was born, and Father, who was returning from a trip to Lourdes, saw her and bought her at once, though her silk dress was rotten and her eyes had fallen into her head from neglect and rough handling. As soon as he saw her dance, he knew she was special: wind the key set into the small of her back and she would begin to move, stiffly at first, then with a slick, inhuman fluidity, raising her arms, bowing from the waist, flexing her knees, showing the plump roundness of her porcelain calves under the dancer's skirt. Months of loving restoration gave her back all her beauty, and now she sat resplendent in blue and white satin in my father's collection, between the Indian music-box and the Persian clown.

I was never allowed to wind her up. Sometimes, when I lay awake in the middlle of the night, I could hear a faint tinkle of music from behind the closed door, low and intimate, almost carnal . . . The image of Father in his nightgown with the dancing Columbine in his hands was absurdly disquieting. I could not help wondering how he would hold her; whether he would dare to let his hand creep beneath the foaming lace of her petticoats . . .

I rarely saw my mother; she was often indisposed and spent a great deal of time in her room, into which I was not allowed. She was a beautiful enigma, dark-haired and violet-eyed. Glancing into the secret chamber one day I remember a looking-glass, jewels, scarves, armfuls of lovely gowns strewn over the bed. Among it all lingered a scent of lilac, the scent of my mother when she leaned to kiss me goodnight, the scent of her linen as I buried my face in the washing the maid hung out to dry.


Excerpted from Sleep, Pale Sister by Joanne Harris Copyright © 2005 by Joanne Harris.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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