It begins, they say, with a woman screaming . . . On a remote Scottish island, the McBride house stands guard...

Review || While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt

While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt cover

It begins, they say, with a woman screaming . . .

On a remote Scottish island, the McBride house stands guard over its secrets. A century ago, a young widow and her son died mysteriously there; just last year a local boy, visiting for a dare, disappeared without a trace.

For Zoe Adams, newly arrived from America, the house offers a refuge from her failing marriage. But her peaceful retreat is disrupted by strange and disturbing events: nighttime intrusions; unknown voices; a constant sense of being watched.

The locals want her to believe that these incidents are echoes of the McBrides’ dark past. Zoe is convinced the danger is closer at hand, and all too real—but can she uncover the truth before she is silenced?


I'm not typically one to pick up a thriller. However, throw in a ghost story and I'm interested.

While You Sleep started well. Zoe, an American, is fleeing from the confines of her failing marriage. You see, the best thing to do when your marriage is on the rocks is go rent a spooky house on a remote Scottish island, especially when it's on a sea cliff and none of the locals will stay there themselves. Great idea! Let's go!

From there, we see the typical haunted house vibe: strange noises, disembodied voices and singing, a watchful presence, strange visions, and dreams. Then we get some midnight ghostly sexy time and BDSM, which felt awkwardly out of place. 

As the book progresses, we learn more about the island and its inhabitants, including the story of the original owner of the house. A widowed woman living alone with a mute child, of course, HAS to be a devil-worshiping witch or worse, possessed. Needless to say, the characters were pretty cliched from the dippy American to the all-knowing Professor. They all managed to completely fulfill their designated stereotype to the fullest.

I was disappointed that the author didn't capitalize more on the location. The house was such a manifestation itself. Creaky, old house sitting on a windblown cliff above the tattered waves. Some of the unease and tension were very well done throughout the novel but mainly centered in and around the house.

While You Sleep had potential but began to lose its luster halfway through. While there were some twists and turns, especially at the end, it wasn't enough to merit more than a "meh" from me.

Stephanie Merritt (born 1974 in Surrey) to Jim and Rita Merritt is a critic and feature writer for various publications including The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the New Statesman, Zembla and Die Welt. She has also been Deputy Literary Editor and a staff writer at The Observer.

Merritt graduated in English from Queens' College, Cambridge in 1996. Prior to this, she attended Godalming College in Surrey.

She is the author of two novels, Gaveston (Faber & Faber) which won a Betty Trask Award of £4,000 from the Society of Authors in 2002 [2:], and Real (2005), for which she is currently writing a screenplay. She has also written a memoir, The Devil Within, published by Vermilion is 2008, which discusses her experiences living with depression.

Meritt has appeared regularly as a critic and panellist on BBC Radio 4 and BBC7, has been a judge for the BBC and Channel 4 new comedy awards as well as the Perrier Award, and appeared as interviewer and author at various literary festivals, as well as the National Theatre and the English National Opera