While She Sleeps (1940) by Ethel Lina White

Regular readers of the blog will know that White is one of my go to authors and two of my favourites reads from 2018 were by her. So it is with a heavy heart that I have to confess that today’s read didn’t quite hit the target. After all despite enjoying this book much more than me, Moira at Clothes in Books did comment in her own review that she doesn’t think ‘this book would be to everyone’s taste.’ Unfortunately that was the case for me. However now I have delivered this shocking piece of news I best introduce the book…

The story focuses on Miss Loveapple, (first name never revealed), who quite frankly would fit in with the Disney princesses who have wildlife come when they sing; her life is that idyllic and perfect. Then again I don’t feel White is setting Loveapple up as a character to be admired and loved. So when the this reader read the opening lines, I can’t say I was wringing my heart out for Loveapple’s fate:

‘Miss Loveapple awoke with a smile. She had slept well; her digestion was good – her conscience clear; and she had not an enemy in the world. There was nothing to warn her that, within the next hour she would be selected as a victim to be murdered.’

Followed up by her first world problems, (oh no I have three properties, but I feel that renting them out for a few months each year is surely exploiting them and making them feel less my own), I was also gunning for her demise… However, instead we follow her fate as she makes preparations for renting out her London home and going on holiday to Switzerland. Each decision she makes either takes her one step closer to safety or death! More than one criminal enterprise is raised against her, but will her luck last long enough to see her through to the end of the story?

Overall Thoughts

Again Moira hits it on the head with her remark that, ‘the plot is all over the place – as is her wont, White throws in everything,’ and for me that is part of the problem, as there are so many different elements: London based plot, Switzerland holiday sequence, the train journey…, but none of them are done really well or exploited sufficiently, or at least not up to the same standard as when they are seen separately in White’s other novels. The setup of Loveapple’s country retreat is probably the best milieu out of the book, but we don’t get to spend as much time there as I would have liked and when we do it’s mostly to read about the overly devoted maid, who is so loyal to her employer that she tries to tempt fate into killing her rather than Loveapple, who she fears may die, (based on no evidence whatsoever). For the first half of this book the mystery element is somewhat meagre. In the middle the London based plot blossoms into something interesting, yet its finale is lost in swathes of other matters at the end of the book, leaving it to die prematurely. The continental criminal sequence is a hurried fare which is not particularly convincing for the reader. Personally I would have enlarged the London aspect and truncated the holiday narrative, which is far too long and doesn’t really add to the plot, (except for the social and comic details it provides from time to time).

In general this is a novel to be read for social and cultural highlights, rather than for the mystery aspect. I was interested to note, after reading the book, that three of the quotes/episodes I jotted down for my review, were also included in Moira’s review. I guess something about them makes them stick in your mind. One has been featured above, but the other two concern clothing, in particular Miss Loveapple’s shorts:

‘Whether she worked in the house or garden, Miss Loveapple’s official wear was shorts. These were ready-made and possessed the discretion of the Boy Scout pattern, rather than the frankness of a bathing belle model. All the same, she paid tribute to local susceptibilities by buttoning a grey flannel skirt over them before she went into the village.’

Yet when she is affronted and disgusted by Viva wearing a part of trousers in Switzerland she goes off and cuts several inches off her shorts in protest. Somewhat boggling really, though at least with Boy Scout type shorts you can probably afford to lose some length.

Bizarre behaviour aside one aspect I found interesting in Miss Loveapple was her reluctance to marry, fearing a husband and children would eat away her money and three homes. Don’t exactly approve of the materialism, but I did like how she stuck to her guns about it, even when one character says to her that: ‘Any woman who deliberately rejects marriage must be mentally malformed. I should say your mind is as much of a freak as a three-legged calf.’ Consequently her U-turn on this matter later on in the book was somewhat disappointing, especially due to the hurried and ungrounded nature of it. It didn’t feel very convincing. Then again the ending in general doesn’t really meet expectations and seems to cut off at an unusual juncture.

It might be the fact I was reading a large print edition, but this book did feel overly long and there wasn’t that usual richness of character to fill it out in my opinion. But to end on a positive, however small, I did find amusing the passive aggression which Miss Loveapple and her maid exchange through what the household pets “think” or “say”.

Right that is my grinching over, hopefully my next read will be more my cup of tea.

Rating: 3.5/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Author from your country

Calendar of Crime: September (3) Primary action takes place in this month

17 comments

  1. How was it reading a large print edition? I’ve yet to read one. I just recently tracked down a book that I’ve been hunting for over a year, and realized to my horror when I received it that it was a large print edition. Admittedly, the print isn’t as large as I had imagined it would be, so maybe it won’t be so bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not too bad. You get used to reading a page a bit quicker. Probably depends on how good the book is, as if the plot isn’t up to scratch it can heightened feelings of slow pace or dragging or give the illusion, in my opinion, principally because of the increased page length, which of course makes you think it is a much longer book than it actually is. I read a Joanna Cannan novel in large print and I was fine with that one. What book did you get in large print?

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  2. This is one of my favorites by White. I didn’t mind Miss Loveapple being somewhat odd and unsympathetic because she’s such an unusual lead for this kind of story. It’s an interesting book because there are all these plots going on at the same time, and you don’t think they can possibly come together but somehow they do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny how a book can take people differently! I wasn’t unconvinced about them all leading to one conclusion, but I just found too ungrounded and un-established to have the same effect on me as they do in other White novels. With so much going on it is understandable you can’t give every as much attention as you would like. I still feel the emphasis on the holiday sequence was a mistake, but in part I feel my expectations were quite high given my last two reads by White.

      Liked by 1 person

    • If I was reading a PAT Mayo mystery then yes, it would not be pleasant, but PAT writing as Alice Tilton will be fine. I have loved all of the ones I have read so far. Equally I don’t actually go into books feeling grinch-like, it is more a mood which descends once the book has started annoying me. Equally once I have finished the book, done the review, then I am grinch free again.

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  3. Large-print edition was introduced to meet the needs of elderly poor-sighted readers. In kindle books also, one can increase the font size sufficiently to make reading easy. In fact, I read kindle books without reading glasses.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the shoutout, and that is a very fair review, you are most respectful of others’ tastes! I have rarely felt so strongly when reading the book ‘I am loving this, but most people will hate it’, I could see it so clearly. Well, between us, people can see both sides then decide whether to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! It is one of those marmite books, that given the nature of the protagonist, you will either go on to enjoy or find a bit disappointing. However in terms of clothing you would have been spoilt for choice, as a lot of outfits are mentioned.

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