Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Innocent Sleep.
Perry has written a compelling psychological thriller about the marital conflicts of a couple in mourning with their relationship fractured and unable to heal. The setting is the vast, sun-drenched landscape of Tangier, where careless Irishman Harry and his wife, Robin, race toward an earthquake with their son, Dillon. Moving from 2005 to 2010, the novel begins with a stillness in the air, not a whisper of a breeze along the narrow streets of this exotic city. When tragedy strikes, the couple return to wintry Ireland, their devastating loss resulting in a sexual and emotional estrangement.
No longer able to function in their respective careers (Robin is an architect, Harry a painter), they find themselves ricocheting from a shared tragedy that was supposed to bring them closer together. Robin is not sleeping. The refreshing cold, crisp air was supposed to give her a renewed sense of well-being and a life full of good intentions. Harry wanted to turn over a new leaf and return to his beloved painting. He’s not so keen on the cold of Ireland but has nevertheless reluctantly agreed to his wife’s wishes. Agitated and distracted, Harry punishes himself with the memories of Tangier that are always so present and seem to crease themselves “into a little furrow of worry.”
For five long years, Robin has watched a trapped Harry struggle with the burden of self-loathing. Back in Tangier the sun was too bright, the labyrinth of city streets too dark, and the excess of sensual delights a surfeit that imprisoned them both rather than freed them. Here in Dublin, Harry can do little else but lock the doors on his central Dublin studio where the “Tangier paintings” are kept hidden.
Focusing on Harry, who attempts to keep his grief hidden, Perry shows us in gripping yet subtle tones how rigid is our comprehension of foreign culture, how incomplete our knowledge of ourselves. As Harry and Robin move apart, first from each other and then from their own sanity, we understand how delicate Harry’s grip on reality actually is. Ghostly images appear in central Dublin during a demonstration against the collective exasperation at the government. The resurrected past plays out once again. In unearthly light, Harry recollects the strangeness of that morning and the surprise of how a flash of color and a scarf can alter his view of himself and the world:
he sees a tall and attractive woman holding a boy by the hand—“his son, his lost boy.”
The Irish winter grows ever colder and the shadows grow deeper in a white Christmas. In a bizarre counterpoint to the heart and color of Tangier, and perhaps a symbol for Robin and Harry and their inner emptiness, there’s a soft blanket of snow over every shrub and bush. The bizarre sighting eventually becomes so real that Harry gradually and terrifyingly loses what fragile grip on reality he once possessed.
Perry plunges us into the interior of Harry and Robin’s marriage: the terrible gamble after all the years of love and tenderness, and the hurt, grief and shared pain. The author writes a sharp character study, giving us flashes of great insight into each character. Duplicitous friend Cozimo circles around the action and around Tangier, adding to the shadows and the dark, and to the murky depths of the water that lap the shore. Harry’s best friend, Spencer, tries to help along with Robin’s concerned parents, who fear that Harry is becoming more unhinged and more deluded with every passing day.
Although the mystery is essential to the story, Perry’s talent is to create a plausible tale of trauma and a ruthless examination of the many layers of marriage and a couple’s opaque role within it. Every time Harry and Robin seem to be on the verge of healing themselves or each other, Perry pulls the chair out from under them. Robin and Harry are forced to become more calculating as they seek to counteract the slow, steady accumulation of several small deceptions, one leading to another. Amid this menace, Perry shows real empathy for loss as the uncertainty and fear rises in Harry like bile, as his fragmented memories struggle to find focus as his world collapses around him.