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Madeleine Is Sleeping (Harvest Book) Paperback – Bargain Price, November 1, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An immensely obese woman who sprouts two magnificent pairs of wings, a lonely housewife who grows strings to match her husband's viol and a lascivious, wealthy widow are just a few of the fantastical characters who populate the enchanting world of Bynum's debut. Written in brief, dreamy segments (appropriately enough, since the title character has fallen into a Sleeping Beauty–like slumber), the book alternates deftly between reality and illusion as it follows Madeleine down a path of sexual, artistic and personal discovery. In a perverse revisitation of Ludwig Bemelmans's classic children's books, Madeleine, exiled to a Parisian convent from her pastoral French home after committing a rather scientific sex act with the village idiot, joins a band of gypsies who wind up performing for a widow with a love of photography and a penchant for the pornographic. As Madeleine grows entwined in an intensely erotic love triangle with the "flatulent man," M. Pujol, and Adrien, the photographer assigned to document the widow's grotesquely arranged tableaux, life at home grows worse for the family holding vigil over her as she sleeps. The book culminates in a masterful merge between Madeleine's waking life and her dreams, making it impossible to discern whether reality ever existed in Bynum's imaginative tale. Replete with Kafkaesque metamorphoses, Freudian fantasies, Aesopian justice and religious metaphor, the novel is equal parts fairy tale, fable, romance and bildungsroman. At times, the allegorical allusions grow predictable, and some readers may be put off by the constant shifts and uncertainty between fact and fiction. Others looking for a challenging, unusual read will be thrilled by the imagination and mysterious energy that haunt this remarkable debut.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.



"Bynum's lush, poetic imagery is full of vivid, sensuous details one can almost smell, taste, and feel . . . Achingly human and poignantly telling."--The Boston Globe

"Hypnotic . . . A small, enchanting novel that appeals to the naughty, insolent child in each of us."--USA Today

"Bynum's voice is vivid, her use of language incisive and surprising."
(BookForum 20041026)

"A luminous debut novel..powerful and hauntingly elusive"
(Boston Globe 20041111)

"Like a dream, this novel fills the mind with tantalizing ambiguity, haunting images, and innocent longings that are slow to fade."
(Christian Science Monitor 20040920)

"Extravagantly imagined...a fantasy influenced by writers from Ludwig Bemelmans to Angela Carter"
(New York Times 20041016)

"Bynum's boldly original first novel is an allegory of adolescence...every page offers something original."
(People 20041003)

"A magical tale"
(Time Out New York )

"Masterful...a voice at once sensuous and humorous, mellifluous and matter-of-fact"
(Washington Post Book World )

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156032279
  • ASIN: B003E7EUCA
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,867,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Maggie Smith on October 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is irresistable. The prose poem-like chapters thread through a carnival of characters and settings, leading you from one strange and beautiful world to another. The language is stunning; the story is part fairy tale, part historical fiction, part surreal tableau.

As a book seller, I see hundreds of new novels every year, many of which are well-written, innovative, and lovely, but this is one of those rare gems--a story so perfect in its peculiarity, so delightful in its turns--that you feel you have been given a gift of something you didn't even know you wanted until it was there in your hands.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In this strange and often beautiful novel in which reality and fantasy overlap, Madeleine, a young girl, reclines romantically in what appears to be a permanent state of sleep, with her family and neighbors all tiptoeing around her. Her mind, however, is active, creating a bizarre dream world in which she lives out a series of adolescent fantasies, exploring who she is, what kind of adult will she become, what her role in life may be, what makes her unique, and how her sexual fantasies might be fulfilled.

Unique characters appear in her dreams--an immensely fat woman (Mathilde, Madame Cochon) who has two pairs of wings, a girl who has a stringed body which she can play like a viol, a man who creates the sounds of the nightingale and the cuckoo with his flatulence, a "half-wit" who exposes himself to children, an opera singer dethroned by a castrato, and a photographer in a mental institution, along with Madeleine's real-life family. The "action," real and imagined, ranges from a gypsy circus, where Madeleine studies tumbling, to the home of a widow, where the strangely gifted circus performers act out tableaux vivants, and eventually to a mental hospital, before returning to Madeleine's family and home in rural France.

As in our own dreams, strange connections occur among the characters. Madeleine, at one point, becomes the Madeleine from the children's stories about a Parisian convent school, her real-life brothers and sisters appear in the mental hospital dream sequence, and she engages in a love triangle, which becomes a literary joke when the author tries to figure out how to conclude the love story of three characters.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lindsay Johnson on May 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
I read "Madeleine Is Sleeping" after "Ms. Hempel Chronicles," taking them out of their publication date order. This earlier work is a truly original piece of writing comprised of a number of vignettes about the young Madeleine, her family in their provincial French town, an odd collection of wandering carnies, and oh yes a fat woman who suddenly sprouts wings and begins tracking her fecal deposits. The story is completely whimsical, as though it was plucked from the brain of an unsuspecting, daydreaming child. I certainly cannot fault Bynum on originality, though the abstractness of her writing does make it difficult to adequately describe the plot.

I was fascinated by this book and unlike other books that have left me constantly questioning my comprehension and grasp of what is really going on, I was never frustrated. If you choose to pick up this book, you must do so knowing full well that it will require you to accept the unnatural and feel the story rather than overthink it. The quality of the writing is excellent - I was impressed with Bynum's attention to detail, descriptions, and characters. I will warn the potential reader that it does contain some mature content and might not be appropriate for more junior readers (despite focusing so acutely on children and growing up). Though I prefer her later work, I have great admiration for this author and will be very curious to see what she publishes next.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By The Prof on October 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
In "Indivisible," one of the vignettes that compose Bynum's mesmerizing new novel, one of the characters reminisces about a children's story of a tailor who stitched his shadow to himself. "And she knows that, as with all things sutured, the two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both. She is certain of it. Yes she persists in picking at the edges; she delights in seeing how the wound seeps, where the scab has been lifted away by a fingernail."

This vignette is emblematic of how Bynum's novel operates. The "real" and the "unreal" or "dream-like" are sutured together throughout the book. Can they be separated? Probably not, but we readers keep trying, we keep "picking at the edges," trying to sort out the separation. Bynum seems to be suggesting that reading is not so much a creative act as it is a destructive one. Trying to separate the real and the dream in this novel would, if we could do it, destroy the book.

But, of course, none of the novel is "real." It's all a verbal representation on a series of pages. Some of the words represent "real" things (e.g. Le Petomane, a unique musical performer who actually lived in France a century ago), but in the novel, those things aren't the actual things, merely verbal constructs of them. So as we read and try to figure out what is a dream and what is "real," we're being drawn into the story, seduced into believing that at least some of it is "real." Or at least that some parts are more "real" than the "dream" parts. And that act of believing is a creative act of reading.

So Bynum's great accomplishment is to involve us in simultaneous acts of creation and destruction as we read her novel. A careful reader can't help but do both, for we cannot do one without the other. This is an exhilarating novel to read as a result.
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