Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Sleep of Reason by Martin Day

Plot: Caroline is a perfectly healthy young girl, except she takes a razor to her wrists with alarming regularity. She dreams of a sinister house and to her surprise finds herself admitted to it, the Retreat, a home for the mentally ill. There she finds herself under the scrutiny of the mysterious Dr Smith and his two assistants…

Top Doc: I always applaud experiments and here Martin Day surpasses himself, writing the book entirely from the POV of the guest characters. It affords a unique view from the outsiders POV of the Doctor and his friends and their crazy adventures.

He is described as two parts Lord Byron and one part Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen. He is brilliant one moment and almost an idiot savant the next. He seems trouble when asked if he has ever been married (Mary, Debbie) but merely states that he is an observer of such things and watches from afar. He has no ear for gossip. The Doctor cannot bear to be in the same place for more than five minutes. With the Doctor days can feel like weeks and months can pass by in the blink of an eye. The Doctor hates labels (Jungian, Freudian) because they limit potential, ring fence freedom and stamp out individuality. One morning he can believe one thing, the evening something completely different. He believes in truth – justice and prejudice, freedom and slavery, good and evil. He is intimately familiar with people but powerless without permission to proceed. You could never imagine him doing anything as mundane as sleeping, eating or scratching his balls. He tries not to dream because he has nightmares. His touch is not sexual or abusive but more sensual and powerful. He is attracted to weird things which he tries to put right, has power but he chooses to turn away from evil. The Doctor, the man who is most human of all is not human at all. The Doctor is very protective towards the time continuum. He attracts the Sholem-Luz because of all the pain and anguish he has carried over the years. He might be odd and distant at times, but he is full of marvellous insight and irrepressible energy.

Best of all of this marvellous insight into his character is his admission that his time in the Retreat will probably amount to very little but sometimes all you can do is make a difference to a few lives. For too long now he has been focussing on the ‘bigger picture’ and the details are just as important. People are as fundamental to him as anything. After his universe ending escapades in the alt universe arc, this is some real development for his character…as he was gagging to just spend some time with people in Sometime Never… but he had other, more important priorities. This follows nicely into the next book where he goes all domestic and sets up home and helps out just one family…

Scruffy Git: Described as the dopey bloke and uncombed hair and 5’oclock shadow. Fitz is scared if he goes into therapy (after all the screwing around with his brain!) he might never come out! He is learning from the Doctor, being influenced by him. Unquestioningly loyal and uncomplicatedly honest (that just about sums him up!). When facing death, Fitz is still thinking about sex (I love this guy). You could forgive him anything. Seeing Fitz from other peoples POV makes him seem something of a drop out and totally obedient to the Doctor’s commands.

Identity Tricks: Whilst I don’t agree with wasting Trix’s scarce page space by putting her in the books background it is fascinating how sinister and bullying she seems when seen from other people’s perspective. Described as the bitchy blonde. Terrible things hide behind her eyes. She is as fresh as a daisy and much sexier. Her interests differ from the Doctor and Fitz but they look out for each other. She has many diverse faults but as an agent of intrigue and stealth, Trix cannot be faulted. She is from the bull in the china shop school of tact.

Twists: The first scene featuring the Doctor (?) locked up in a mental asylum are intriguing to say the least. Caroline’s introduction is featured in the first chapter which is shockingly brutal and real, slicing her wrists open, the slice of metal throbbing with possibility, able to berth her into a more adult world. The scenes from Laska’s POV with the Doctor are excellent as she tries to work out the rules of their mental battles. Laska’s dream in the bath of the hound trying to naw through the bathroom door and waking up with vicious red bite marks, is hypnotically scary. Terrifying mental struggles ensue with Miss Thorne as she recounts having her child taken from her, externalising her frustration and anger by having a row with her lost child. Equally disturbing is Fern kicking Mary Jones until she cannot speak, pinning her down between her breasts with his boot and bashing her skull open with a rock whilst spouting religious dogma. Tracy Wade has her car flipped over and is savaged by the death hound. Dr Christie, doused with oil, glistening like a newborn phantasm of evil, plans to set fire to himself, the bodies and all of Masoulus House. The Sholem-Luz are attracted to the insane, creating tunnels through the fabric of time and space, obeying their biological imperative. They infected a lower species (in this case a dog) who bites one of the asylum workers….who sets about burning the bodies of dead, producing more seeds to scatter on the time winds and infect other places and times. We discover Lis was the one who helped Laska’s father die in a mercy killing. She catches her husband straddling one of the nurses and kicks him in the nuts! Ms Thorne turns out to be Laska’s great, great grandmother and we witness her passing away in Dr Christie’s arms over her father’s grave in a very moving scene. In the busy climax Fits and Trix are trapped in the basement with the patients whilst James (the Sholem-Luz infected host) threatens to feed them to the flames. The Doctor uses his dark memories to attract the Sholem Luz after him into the past and they die in the fire of their own making in Masoulus House. Brilliantly we discover the Doctor was responsible for saving the lives of Christie, Macksay and Torby, the very journal we have been reading throughout is infected with his presence. To avoid waiting another century to see his friends (again!) he sleeps in a sarcophagus in the basement and makes a superb entrance (“How is anyone supposed to sleep through all this racket?”) in the climax! I loved Laska’s last line, when you realise she joined the Retreat a year ago as Laska but is going home Caroline, the Doctor having touched her life in a most profound way.

Funny bits: Finally somebody points out how hideous Fitz and Trix’s names are!

Result: The second of two back-to-back classics and firm proof that the EDAs aren’t going to go out quietly. The Sleep of Reason is my idea of an adult book, one that deals with serious and disturbing issues with sensitivity and emotion and looks at its characters deeply, allowing the reader to get under their skin and understand what makes them tick. It is a dark and mature piece that grips you with the quality of the characterisation and the density of the prose. The characters feel like real people, nothing is sensationalised and the feelings brewed up are painfully real. Refusing to allow us access to the regulars thoughts is another superb plus point, allowing some unexpected and delightful characterisation (especially the Doctor who has rarely been as glowing). A dark, mature and frightening book and a winner in every sense of the term: 10/10