Wow! This book was so far out of my comfort zone, I was in two minds whether to buy it. But I thoroughly enjoyed the story, the suspense and the characters. One thing that did disappoint me slightly was that I didn’t find it quite as thrilling as I could tell I was supposed to, but I think I must have quite a low tolerance for that sort of thing, because I never do.
The book is about a promising young psychiatrist called James Richardson, who is offered a job at Wyldehope Hall in deep dark Suffolk. He’s in charge of a rather strange project, in which patients with severe mental disorders are given a concoction of drugs to keep them asleep for months. They are only woken to be given food and to use the toilet and then plunged straight back into this induced state of permanent sleep. While they are asleep, they are given regular electric shock therapy to try and rid their brains of the ‘badness’ that was causing their mental problems.
After James has been there a while, he senses something weird about the patients, they all seem to dream at the same time, starting and stopping within seconds of each other. He thinks that the study may have finally proved its worth, but other strange things are afoot. He’s hearing strange noises, things are going missing and moving; seemingly without any outside influence. He has questions: why is the night-nurse so wholly disturbed by what she has seen on the sleep wards? Why are the patients there and what is their history? Is it possible that the sleeping patients have something to do with it? Can their brain waves possibly be connecting somehow to cause these strange things to happen?
Then one night, it all comes to a head when the sleeping patients seemingly go way too far, causing James to have to leave Wyldehope Hall for good. I thought this may have been the end to it and a very strange end at that, but then we are reminded of an anecdote from one of the supposedly mental patients:
A man dreams that he is a butterfly, and in that dream he has no knowledge of his life as a human being. When he wakes up, he asks himself two questions: Am I a man, who just dreamed he was a butterfly? Or am I really a butterfly who just dreamed he was a man?
Thus bringing forth a plot twist that I would never have expected. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it was genius. I’ve seen on Amazon that Tallis has written a lot more books, so I may have to check them out next time I go on a book-buying spree.
On a side-note, I found out today (while reading a random news article on the Daily Mail), that this book was actually based on a true story of a psychiatrist called William Sargant. Obviously not the weird paranormal stuff, but the practice of putting people to sleep for extended periods of time was actually used at one time. If I had known that before I had read the book, it would have made it a lot more sinister.