Lara is The Sleeper’s heroine: she is bored with the beautiful but languid life in Cornwall, unable to relate to her dependant husband, Sam. A city girl at heart, she jumps at the chance to return to her old work in London, joining the weekly commuters to the capital. This, Emily Barr’s eleventh novel, focuses on the sleeper train that travels through the night, linking London, with its fast paced and sometimes dangerous city to the picturesque and often reclusive Cornish coastal idyll. Lara finds comfort in her routine double-life and she is the narrator of the first half of the book – until her mysterious disappearance somewhere between London and Cornwall. And so, the second half of the book is written from the point of view of her Cornish friend, Iris, determined to find out what happened to her.
But who is Lara really and how does her character evolve? I am not sure that Barr is very sure. We meet Lara, the passive and demoralized wife, at the beginning of the novel. She transforms into an independent, free-thinking career woman as she settles into her London life and into an affair with sleeper train companion Guy, and then, in the third part of the book, we are confronted with a daring and desperate superhero – an unbelievable jump as things work up to a dramatic and almost theatrical crescendo. Unbelievable or not, Barr writes well; she uses her intimate knowledge of Cornwall and London to describe the contrasting settings and captures Lara’s defensive and spiteful sister Olivia, particularly well.
Barr, lives in Cornwall and describes the complicated emotions of the two very different narrators very convincingly. Though sometimes far-fetched, the plot is gripping and this who-done-it page-turner makes an excellent read this cold Christmas season.
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