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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Sleepwalker

ISBN: 9780385538916

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication Date: 1/10/2017

Format: Other

My Rating: 3 Stars From the New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Room comes a spine-tingling novel of lies, loss, and buried desire—the mesmerizing story of a wife and mother who vanishes from her bed late one night. When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. Once, she merely destroyed the hydrangeas in front of her Vermont home. More terrifying was the night her older daughter, Lianna, pulled her back from the precipice of the Gale River bridge. The morning of Annalee's disappearance, a search party combs the nearby woods. Annalee's husband, Warren, flies home from a business trip. Lianna is questioned by a young, hazel-eyed detective. And her little sister, Paige, takes to swimming the Gale to look for clues. When the police discover a small swatch of fabric, a nightshirt, ripped and hanging from a tree branch, it seems certain Annalee is dead, but Gavin Rikert, the hazel-eyed detective, continues to call, continues to stop by the Ahlbergs' Victorian home. As Lianna peels back the layers of mystery surrounding Annalee's disappearance, she finds herself drawn to Gavin, but she must ask herself: Why does the detective know so much about her mother? Why did Annalee leave her bed only when her father was away? And if she really died while sleepwalking, where was the body?

Conjuring the strange and mysterious world of parasomnia, a place somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness, The Sleepwalker is a masterful novel from one of our most treasured storytellers.

My Review

A special thank you to Doubleday and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Master storyteller, Chris Bohjalian returns following The Guest Room landing on my Top Books of 2016 with an intriguing tale of the mysterious world of parasomnia and dark family secrets. Recommend reading the novella, The Premonition, a prequel to THE SLEEPWALKER. “I am terrified by this dark thing that sleeps in me.” – Sylvia Plath Set in Vermont, a young mother sleepwalks and performs complex behaviors. Now she has gone missing. Annalee is a sleepwalker. A condition, or a state, a sleep behavior somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness Her daughter Lianna was twenty-one and her sister, Paige was twelve. The husband and father, Warren (English Professor) at the elite New England college--was away on business. They have not recovered. Annalee embarrassed her husband. They both felt shame, but for different reasons. He because of what people saw and she because of what she could not control. The parents often fought. Annalee was smart and beautiful. She battled depression and took antidepressants. “They tell you there is no connection between sleepwalking and dreams. Perhaps. After all, you can remember your dreams." The girls were years apart and there had been five miscarriages between the two births. Seven years later the sleepwalking began. Lianna was in high school and Paige in the second grade. When the mother was sleepwalking, it seemed she was oblivious, even to the weather, and no recollection of the events the follow day. "You climb out of bed. You search out a stranger who will satisfy the craving. With any luck, you will wake before you find one. But not always." The events only occurred when the father was out of town—including the night when she vanished once and for all. It was why the police almost instantly discarded him as a suspect. He had been at a poetry conference in Iowa City. Both the girls are feeling guilty since neither woke up that night. No body had been found. “It’s only when the dreams lead you from your bed; from sleep, that the amusements become dangerous. The next morning, the patient is amnestic. They remember nothing or next to nothing or presumes it was merely a dream. Detective Gavin Rikert with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Waterbury is on the case. Lilanna is sure her mother did not kill herself and she was not having an affair. An accident? Did she drown? They found a scrap of nightgown; it was by the river. A concussion. They hoped she was not in the water. The Detective and the mom had attended the same sleep center. He mentioned they had not seen one another for the last several years. Lianna thinks he knows more than he is saying. The author sprinkles first person notes in italics between chapters. The reader is unsure who is speaking-adding to the mystery. The novel unfolds surrounding the fallout emotions of the disappearance of Annalee. Warren throws himself in work and drinking; whereas Lianna takes drugs to dull the pain, and Paige swims the river in search of the mother. Everyone handles the guilt and grief in different ways. People go to the extremes when sleepwalking. From having sex, commit crimes, cook, drive, and drown. It also runs in the family. The ongoing mystery of what really happened to Annalee- to the final conclusion. If you have read any of Bohjalian’s previous books, you come to expect he tackles highly charged emotional topics with informative and well-researched compelling information. Twisty, slow-burning, and absorbing. “The earth is as rich with magic as it is with horror and sadness.” While the subject was fascinating, I will admit this was not my favorite of his books. Felt, it was missing the intensity, suspense, and literary flair of his previous books. Not sure I enjoyed it enough, to want to read "book two" in the series. In addition to the reading copy, I also purchased the audiobook, and while I enjoy Cady McClain, the other performer Grace Experience had the most irritating voice, had to stop and could not listen. Later discovered Grace is Chris's daughter (sorry); however, a narrator will make or break a book. There are six common parasomnias that afflict sleepers:

  • Sleepwalking. More commonly seen in children, sleepwalking (also called somnambulism) affects about 4 percent of American adults

  • REM sleep behavior disorder

  • Nightmares.

  • Night terrors

  • Nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder

  • Teeth grinding

Review Links:



"It takes unexpected answers to solve this mystery. Bohjalian's latest will captivate readers who crave an edge-of-your-seat page-turner they can't put down." Library Journal (Starred Review)

"Sex, secrets and the mysteries of sleep: These are the provocative ingredients in Chris Bohjalian’s spooky thriller The Sleepwalker. It’s a dark, Hitchcockian novel... Trust me, you will not be able to stop thinking about it days after you finish reading this book." Carol Memmott, The Washington Post

"After a chronic sleepwalker goes missing, the general consensus is accidental death. But nothing is what it seems in this gripping mystery." —Cosmopolitan

"One night when her professor husband is out of town, and while her teenage daughters sleep in their rooms, Annalee Ahlberg walks out her front door and heads toward the river. She is never seen again… Bohjalian raises essential questions of identity and heredity, sexuality and desire, bringing the Ahlberg family conundrum into focus with a didn’t-see-that-one-coming powerhouse ending." Carol Haggas, Booklist "Bohjalian... never writes the same book twice... His new novel is suspense with a twist." Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal "The Sleepwalker is more than a mystery: it’s a beautiful, wrenching novel of family secrets and the enigmas that link husbands and wives and lovers. And then that ending? Devastating and perfect." Harlan Coben

"This stylish fusion of mystery and domestic thriller from Bohjalian explores the aftermath of the inexplicable disappearance of a woman prone to sleepwalking... Powered by brilliantly rendered characters, an intriguing topic (parasomnia), and a darkly lyrical narrative that captures the melancholic tone of autumn in New England perfectly." Publishers Weekly

About the Author


Lincoln, Vermont’s Chris Bohjalian is the author of 19 books, most of which were New York Times bestsellers. His work has been translated into over 30 languages and three times become movies.

Writers-Digest-CoverHis most recent novel, “The Guest Room,” a story of a human trafficking, a marriage in crisis, and two remarkable women, was published earlier this year. (The paperback arrives October 25.)

His new novel, “The Sleepwalker,” arrives on January 10, 2017.

His books have been chosen as Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Hartford Courant, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Bookpage, and Salon.

His awards include the ANCA Freedom Award for his work educating Americans about the Armenian Genocide; the ANCA Arts and Letters Award for The Sandcastle Girls, as well as the Saint Mesrob Mashdots Medal; the New England Society Book Award for The Night Strangers; the New England Book Award; Russia’s Soglasie (Concord) Award for The Sandcastle Girls; a Boston Public Library Literary Light; a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Trans-Sister Radio; and the Anahid Literary Award. His novel, Midwives,was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. He is a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He has written for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest, and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. He was a weekly columnist in Vermont for theBurlington Free Press from 1992 through 2015.

Chris graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from Amherst College, and lives in Vermont with his wife, the photographer Victoria Blewer. Their daughter, Grace Experience, is a young actor in New York City. Among the audiobooks she has narrated are Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands and The Guest Room. Read More

The Premonition

This mesmerizing original short story - a prequel to The Sleepwalker - from Chris Bohjalian, best-selling author of The Sandcastle Girls and The Guest Room, tells the tale of one strange summer when a pair of horses die, an odd boy moves to a small Vermont town, and a woman rises from her bed and disappears into the night.

Lianna Ahlberg is 17 when a thunderstorm snaps a power line to the earth, electrifying the ground, the rain spreading the current like wildfire across the wet grass. Two horses are killed in the nearby field, unnerving the neighbors, upsetting the peculiar boy who has just moved in, and filling Lianna with a deep and abiding sense of dread. This is not the first unusual thing to happen that summer - a summer when Lianna's mother begins to sleepwalk in the smallest hours of morning - and it will not be the last.

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