In this atmospheric novel set in the 50’s, Dr. James Richardson is a young psychiatrist when he accepts what appears to be an exciting opportunity to work with the world-famous Dr. Hugh Maitland. Maitland has just opened a clinic in rural Suffolk where he will be employing some experimental therapies and hires Richardson as a doctor for the facility. Richards is surprised to find he’ll be the only doctor on staff with just weekend relief.
When Richardson begins work at the clinic, he is surprised that Maitland will not let him examine the patient records. One of Maitland’s beliefs is that mental problems are chemical and need chemical solutions, not psychotherapy. In the Sleep Room, one of his experimental therapies is keeping six women asleep for months.
Although Richardson has some twinges of doubt about Maitland’s ideas, he defers to him as the expert. Soon he has other things to think about. He becomes very busy with his work and is also romantically involved with a nurse, Jane Taylor.
Small odd things happen beginning almost with his arrival, though. He thinks someone is behind him when no one is. He hears sounds when no one else is in the room. Things disappear and reappear in places where they shouldn’t be. Richardson begins thinking that the stately home housing the clinic has a poltergeist.
The Sleep Room is a difficult book to review because it slowly builds up quite a bit of suspense, but then I found the explanation for the events absurd. Yet, there is a reason for that and I can’t really get into it without giving away too much. Let’s just say that after an apparent climax there is a long, boring explanation followed by a short, apparently aimless follow-up, and then everything gets turned upside down.
One problem is that the final twist isn’t signaled well enough by the rest of the novel and actually doesn’t make sense in terms of the total of the novel’s narrative style. I can think of another book that employed a very similar trick but much more successfully. So, although I was captured by this book, I find that it ultimately doesn’t work.
Finally, the novel is only adequately written and poorly edited. In particular, I noticed loads of unnecessary passive voice and several instances of confused homophones: “knave” instead of “nave” and “taught” instead of “taut,” for example. These problems were with the published book. I was not reading an advance reading copy.