Tara Logan is a teacher-turned-artist experiencing the common struggles of family women her age: a troubled teenage daughter, an unsatisfied husband, and unrequited dreams. Over the course of one evening, her general midlife problems go from average to catastrophic when she finds herself waking up naked and devoid of certain memories, in bed next to her neighbor Lee.
Lee is dead, having been murdered during the blank space of time while Tara was in his house.
The theme is like many we’ve seen in the psychological thriller genre of late. This phenomenon is comparable to the surge in fantasy novels surrounding the releases of the various Harry Potter books. While You Were Sleeping follows the unprecedented success of similar books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Other recent bestsellers in this category include The Couple Next Door, The Perfect Girl, In A Dark Dark Wood, and countless others. The formula for these novels is similar in nature: a struggling female protagonist finds herself in an unimaginable situation, usually consisting of murder and mystery, and either due to the complete idiocy of the police force, stubbornness, or unrealistic delusions of grandeur, these women are left to solve the mystery themselves.
Delve Deeper into the Genre!
With the staggering level of success of similar novels, one must ask why such a disquieting genre is performing so well. While many of the recent publications fitting this description are expertly crafted, engaging stories with high readability, many are not. Numerous books riding the coattails of the popularity of The Girl on the Train boast major plot holes, flat characters, and unfathomable conclusions. And yet, they hit the bestseller list and are discussed in book clubs nationwide. It would be interesting to see which books would have pulled their weight had the timing been different. Furthermore, many of these writers are previously unknown newcomers. Considering the difficulty of getting published, this feeds the theory that timing is indeed everything.
In the case of Tara Logan, fear of self-incrimination or incrimination of her entirely suspicious teenage daughter Rosie, leads Tara to handle many aspects of the murder investigation herself. Croft expertly leaves breadcrumb clues for the reader to follow in solving the case while being sure to scatter misleading hints along the way. This methodology makes for a satisfying build-up of suspense. These decoy hints and clues add a layer of suspicion to many of the bit players in the story, who seemingly have no other purpose than to seem conspicuous.
The most pointless development of these background characters is without a doubt DCI Hunt, the detective in charge of solving Lee’s murder. His development beyond his role as a detective ends up unnecessary and feeds the archaic misconception that the heroine is incomplete without a love interest or a love triangle. We also see the potential to learn more about Tara and the events of that terrible night through her art; the budding of what could blossom into an amazing reveal that is left untended and withers before it blooms.
At its base, While You Were Sleeping delves into familial relationships and maternal protectiveness with startling accuracy. The tumultuous relationship between Tara and Rosie is underscored by the ultimate question of unconditional love: to what lengths will a mother go to protect her child? Meanwhile, the involvement of Tara’s “easy child”, 11-year-old Spencer, captures the resilience of youth and their often surprising maturity in the face of adversity. Parallel to the sibling relationship between the Logan children is the relationship between Tara and her sister Lily, which compares and contrasts the relationship between grown sisters with vastly different lifestyles. These sibling relationships showcase how two individuals raised in the same household with the same rules can end up so different from one another.
The theme that speaks loud and clear throughout the text of While You Were Sleeping is “how well do we know anybody, even those closest to us?” We see this repeatedly in the relationship between Tara and her husband, Nick. In an already rocky marital situation, how will this calamitous event strengthen or loosen their ties? What truths will rise to the surface in the storm? This theme is reflected again with Lily, Rosie, and Tara’s co-worker Mikey, whose previously annoying infatuation with Tara seems to be crossing over into the realms of obsession.
The interactions between Tara and Mikey touch on a very real issue regarding inappropriate and obsessive behavior. Tara is often encouraged—both by herself and her family—to ignore Mikey’s behavior, to remain polite yet firm, and to accept that she’s likely overreacting to what can’t possibly be dangerous, just annoying. Even as we find out more about the depth of Mikey’s and witness acts of textbook escalation the onus is still put on Tara to remain calm and unfazed. It opens up the potential for a dialogue surrounding personal safety and trusting our instincts. Undoubtedly, many readers will likely react similarly to those watching horror movies: watching the heroine run upstairs instead of outside and mentally screaming at her out of frustration. Prepare to experience the same sense of disbelief when reading Tara’s actions in handling Mikey. In reality, however, many female readers have likely found themselves in a similar situation regarding inappropriate behavior and have been accused by themselves or others of handling it incorrectly, shifting the blame from the perpetrator to the victim. In this way, While You Were Sleeping has the unique potential for relevant discussion and education of real world issues amongst readers.
In summation, While You Were Sleeping is worth the read for anyone who has fallen for the abundance of psychological thrillers with a complex female protagonist. Perhaps these novels have become so popular because they allow regular women to experience the inconceivable through the safety of paper and imagination, much like horror movie fans enjoy the control parameters while experiencing fear. Maybe it opens their minds to critical thinking about how they would handle these situations; a chance to think outside the box, if you will. Perhaps it’s a morbid fascination with the consideration that perhaps we don’t know our neighbors, our friends, our closest family, or ourselves nearly as well as we think we do.