book review, horror, women in horror

The Sleepless by Nuzo Onoh

This book starts off as a horror novel but, much like its protagonist, morphs into something else entirely by the end, in a twist that would make M Night Shyamalan blush.

The Sleepless is the story of Obelé – the smallest one – the unwanted fourth daughter of an Igbo couple living in Nigeria in the late 1960s.

Told in two parts, the first part shares a lot of similarities with Onoh’s short story, The Unclean. Turning to witchcraft to procure a son and familial abuse are a major part of the story, but this time the focus is on the child rather than the wife.

Obelé is the constant punching bag of her brutal father, but all manners of crimes against children, especially little girls, are included in the narrative as Obelé encounters the Sleepless – the vengeful spirits of the abused children.

Obelé is a realistic and sympathetic child, and her experiences are unfortunately all to likely. The punishment of another child for revealing her sexual abuse by the hands of a teacher rang all too true.

Bookended by visits to the witchdoctor, the first part of the book is an emotional and though provoking horror that would have been an easy five stars from me.

However, the book continues, and in part two Obelé and her family live through the Biafran War. As a war survivor, the author knows what’s she’s talking about, but despite this, or because of it, the war years rush past in a series of incidents that are horrific but strangely distant. Mythology takes the narrative almost into the realm of fantasy and, while it ties up elements from earlier in the book, I found the new direction brought more questions than it answered.

Perhaps Onoh felt that the ending gave a happy ending to Obelé and her family, or its significance may have been to include the folklore of the Igbo people in contrast to the Catholic, Protestant and Muslim religions that caused such conflict throughout the pages. I’m not sure of it’s ultimate meaning, it will be something I have to think about for a while yet, but so far it leaves me feeling cheated, as if the suffering of the characters was for nought, and has lowered my rating to 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

I award The Sleepless

The Sleepless is available for $4.11 ebook and $11.99 print book on Amazon.

Click here to read my review of Onoh’s short story The Unclean in the anthology, Dominion.

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