The Sleep Watcher by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan: Seeing things as they are

Cover image for The Sleep Watcher by Rowan Hisayo BuchananI’d enjoyed both Harmless Like You and Starling Days so much that I needed no persuasion to pick up Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s The Sleep Watcher which follows a young woman looking back to the summer in which she discovered that her beloved father was not the man she thought he was.

The thing about parents is they’re both deadly dull and your first maps of how to live  

Kit was her father’s daughter in the way that Leo was her mother’s son, one always favouring the other. Kit was conceived on a road trip taken by her British mother one summer when she met F, the son of religious parents living in an American small town, who took off with her shortly after they met. They settled by the seaside close to M’s best friend, M working as a therapist while F did a little freelance IT work, composing songs during his insomniac nights. Towards the end of her GCSE year, Kit found herself having strange nocturnal experiences, leaving her body and roaming the town, seeing how others live and coming to an understanding that her parents’ relationship wasn’t what she thought it was. She took up a part time job at the local museum, set her sights on losing her virginity, went to parties on the beach but it was her night walks that revealed the world to her. As the summer wore on, her parents’ marriage stretched and frayed. It’s a time that’s shaped her adult relationships and she knows she must explain herself before she asks her lover to live with her.

I thought I had all of this straightened out in my mind. But sometimes if you’ve loved a person for a long time, it does not feel possible to slot them into Good and Evil so neatly  

With the empathy and compassion that characterises her previous novels, Buchanan explores the effects of abuse through the story Kit addresses to her lover as she seeks to explain why she’s never spent a night with her. I was a little wary of the out-of-body device, but it works well; Kit’s story is so immersive that it never feels strained. She’s a little different from other girls but no misfit and has taken for granted the stability of her parents’ relationship despite her father’s lack of direction: F is a man-child while M is a grown-up. K has always assumed that Leo was her mother’s favourite but the revelations of the summer might point at a different explanation. The writing is both subtle and elegant, occasional poetic images sing out from Kit’s narrative, and the effects of coercion and violence, while not brutal, are made clear. Writing from an adolescent’s perspective is a difficult trick to pull off but Buchannan does it well: Kit is convincing, her conflicting feelings about her father sensitively portrayed, and her story compelling. Another Buchanan triumph.

Sceptre Books: London ‎ 9781399710626 256 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)

8 thoughts on “The Sleep Watcher by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan: Seeing things as they are”

  1. Somehow I’d not come across this author. Your previous reviews preceded my following your blog/ Anyway, this book is in my library service’s system, and Starling Days is in my own branch, so I’ll have a go at reading one of these very soon. Her books look tempting, if not exactly a beach read.

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