Hodder & Stoughton bring us the absorbing, provocative and quite outstanding ‘Sleeping Beauties’ written by father and son duo Stephen and Owen King.
The book is set in the town of Dooling and Dooling Correctional Institute; a woman’s prison that contains a rag tag bunch of convicts who all seem quite settled in their way of life until a prisoner called Evie arrives at the same time the Aurora epidemic hits. An epidemic that causes all women who fall asleep to develop cocoons that cover their heads and eventually their whole bodies.
Before we get started, let me tell you that this book is something quite special, something that changed me when reading it; the storytelling by itself is magical and told in a typically Stephen King way.
Stephen and Owen King have successfully created a whole town of people that you care deeply about, and you can’t help but get pulled in by the arrestingly brilliant writing on show. Their writing complements each other exquisitely and I struggled to find where one writer stopped and the other began; fluid, enchanting and a treasure to behold.
‘Sleeping Beauties’ has a strong heart that beats within its pages; causing the reader to be fully invested in the fates of the characters and one can’t help but be exposed to its core message. A message that we need to keep hearing about in books, television and the news because unfortunately we still have a long way to go when it comes to issues of equality.
‘The picture showed someone slumped behind the wheel of a car. It was hard to tell if it was a man or woman, because he or she seemed to be wrapped in gauze. On the bottom of the screen, BREAKING NEWS was flashing on and off in red, but that meant nothing; they called it breaking news if Kim Kardashian farted.’
‘Frank had followed the story of the Bright Ones as it developed over the spring, and come to the conclusion that beneath the pseudo-religious, quasi-political trappings, they were just another bunch of trumped-up tax dodgers, emphasis on the Trump.’
When I was reading ‘Sleeping Beauties’ I couldn’t help but think of an old biology lesson that my science teacher Mr. Boone once taught; about the Peppered Moth. The moth native to Great Britain changed colour over time, from white to black; in areas that suffered from heavy pollution. The white moths in turn became easy pickings for its numerous predators as the smog, soot and other pollution caused their natural habitat to change and no longer offer camouflage. So over time the moth changed from white to black to blend in.
I think that is what is happening now regarding the role of women (becoming easy pickings for the predators of todays society) and how they have, over time, had to hide from their predators or what their predators have done to them, camouflaging in with the background rather than being able to shine a light on the issues. Even in the corridors of power around the world women are being targeted with sexism and misogyny which is currently being overlooked and not a day goes by without another scandal hitting the news regarding these issues.
Are we causing this pollution? Are we responsible for glossing over these incidents? Are we responsible for hiding it and are we turning the world toxic / polluting it with these misogynistic views?
It is now being reported that the peppered moth is reverting to its original colouring, due to reductions in pollution – if we say that the pollution we see today is inequality; I feel that this book offers an insight into the changes we can see if we take a stand together. It’s a book that I think will upset the applecart, bringing all these shocking and outdated views held against women into the mainstream and shining a much-needed light on the need for equality.
Maybe we need to learn to be more like the society of Dooling and the moths in my science class; we need to learn to adapt to a more politically and morally correct, equal rights for men and women, those with disabilities and those of a different ethnicity and the LGBTQS+ communities.
Maybe one day we might see people stand up and say, ‘we’ve made mistakes, forgive us… now let’s make a difference’.
The interwoven narrative that Stephen and Owen King produce in ‘Sleeping Beauties’ is phenomenal and like nothing I have ever seen or read before. With so many people in the story I was wondering how the King’s were going to ensure characters were not lost; and how I was going to keep track of their fates. But they execute it like masters. I firmly believe that with so many characters people can find themselves or parts of themselves in the townsfolk of Dooling and if honest may even find themselves sharing some of the towns viewpoints or prejudices (or know of others that do).
‘Sleeping Beauties’ is a rich, challenging and important book that I feel everyone should read; its more than a book and its themes are far-reaching.
‘Sleeping Beauties’ awakens the call for transformation in everyone and may even be powerful enough to alter how we look at society and the need for equality in future generations and serves as big warning for not altering our ways.
Owen King is the author of the novel Double Feature and co-author of the graphic novel Intro to Alien Invasion. His writing has appeared in numerous journals and newspapers, including the Boston Globe, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review, One Story, and Subtropics. He is married to the novelist Kelly Braffet.
Stephen King is an American author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. His books have sold more than 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television series, and comic books. King has published 54 novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman, and six non-fiction books. He has written around 200 short stories, most of which have been collected in book collections.
His novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption was the basis for the film The Shawshank Redemption which is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.
Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine.
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Review by Ross Jeffery
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