I was at a writers conference last weekend and one or two publishers mentioned the fact they were after novels featuring mixed media or compiled via a mix of emails or text or similar. Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber would have made those publishers very happy because, not only is it about something very topical (ie. podcasts and true crimes), it includes tweets, online forum chats and podcast transcripts.
Are You Sleeping
by Kathleen Barber
Published by Macmillan
on August 10th 2017
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape the tragic events of her dark past: after her father's murder, her mother ran away to join a cult, and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie's closest confidant, betrayed her. Now, Josie has a new life in new York with her boyfriend Caleb.
The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past – starting with her last name.
Then investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a hit podcast that reopens the case of her father’s murder and Josie’s carefully constructed world begins to unravel. Forced to return to her hometown she must confront the lies from her past – as well as those on which she has staked her future.
I was one of the gazillion people who listened to the S-Town podcast which garnered much publicity in recent months. I’d not listened to any of its predecessors and have (not-so-sadly) missed the Netflix documentaries about some of the more well-known true crimes, but found myself surprisingly intrigued by the podcast about Shit Town and its now-famous inhabitants.
In real life I’m not into true crime (or non-fiction) at all but I know many have an appetite for it and conspiracy theorists and armchair detectives thrive on the challenge of double guessing decisions made first time around.
In essence, this novel is a whodunnit. A mystery or thriller and though we’re not really foisted back into the past to the time of the crime. Rather Josie – once discovering the podcast – finds herself unable to get the it out of her mind and is suddenly confronted by a past she thought she’d left behind.
I had an early copy of this book without a backcover blurb so Josie’s backstory was a bit of a surprise to me and I enjoyed the way Barber builds the intrigue in the early chapters (ie. I didn’t know there was a twin sister for a while. There was a ‘she’ mentioned but we weren’t introduced to the idea of a twin straight away).
We meet Josie as a twenty-something who’s settled into a life she’s enjoying… even if it’s one full of half-truths and secrets. The podcast and its fallout change things and Josie has to confront long-buried memories – both good and bad. I liked Josie and found her story an interesting one. I think Barber did a good job of reflecting on life as a twin and the ability to both hate and love someone above everything else.
Barber crafts her prose with ease and the story’s telling felt comfortable and chatty. She also provided a lot of insight. Not just into the twin thing, but in terms of the way people – swept up in the fervour of something (the podcast, for example) – can never really know what it’s like for those involved. I guess it’s the same when the spotlight catches someone at a moment (a death, murder and so forth). We only see a snapshot of their life at that time and don’t know who they really were, or have the context of those personally involved. (Although we do in this instance – through Josie and her memories.)
There’s also a reminder of the importance of moving on from the past and letting things go, and perhaps realising we’re as responsible for our unhappiness or our reaction to events as the people involved or the events themselves.
I was perhaps not entirely convinced by the way the mystery unfolded. I kinda guessed at what happened (as we’re really given limited options) but found myself turning page after page nonetheless.
Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber was published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and is now available.
I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher for review purposes.