Author: Alana K. Drex
Genre: Gothic horror
Publication Date: 9 October 2022
Available As: Paperback and e-book
It is October 1885, and Marie Maecott seems to be the only one who knows what has happened to her daughter, Celeste. She is angry that no one else understands her daughter’s condition, as any mother would be. Then one chill night, groundskeeper for Heathridge Cemetery, Jacob Willis, tells her a dark secret in his family’s past that just may hold the key to her problem.
Marie will need to set off on a journey to find out–one in which she will discover terrible parts of herself–parts that would have been better off left buried. And some are going to find out the truth of the timeless adage: it is best not to come between a mother and her child.
Sleeping Celeste is a brisk gothic horror tale that’s firmly focused on blind obsession. The main character, Marie (whom we follow through six chapters, each sporting a date as their title, and trough her first-person narrative), is absolutely devastated after the loss of her four-year-old daughter, Celeste. However, while Celeste appears to all to have died, Marie is convinced – absolutely dead certain – that the girl has simply fallen into a deep sleep and won’t even stop to entertain the idea that she’s anything other than stubborn. Much of Marie’s refusal to accept Celeste’s obvious condition stems from guilt; a twisted, shocking guilt that turns the entire tale on its head and really goes a long way in showing just how depraved Marie is regarding her daughter. Marie is driven to near madness at the thought of Celeste being buried under the ground so her dutiful and devoted husband, John, arranges to have the girl displayed above ground in a special sarcophagus, one that contains a little window so Marie can gaze upon and touch her daughter’s face day after day.
In time, Marie’s obsession only grows. She stays with Celeste around the clock, waiting for the day when she will surely awaken, and reminiscences about her childhood, one that saw Marie watch over her daughter like a hawk and go to questionable lengths to placate the girl when Marie was indulging her vices with a local dreamboat. It’s during her nightly vigils over Celeste that Marie meets Jacob Willis, the resident groundskeeper, who tells her a terrifying story of his Aunt Tress, a witch-like pariah who may hold the key to awakening Celeste through her black magic. Marie is unperturbed by Jacob’s horrific stories of mewling, zombie-like cats since she’s certain Celeste will retain her true personality since she’s not really dead; all Marie needs is a suitable sacrifice, a morbid incantation, and the will to try and awaken her beloved daughter.
I absolutely loved this book. It’s like Pet Sematary (King, 1983) meets Edgar Allan Poe! The way the author constructs her language and descriptions, using archaic inflections and capturing the mood of the era, is admirable and I loved how short and sharp the tale was. It was such an enjoyable read and the author does a fantastic job of making you sympathise with Marie and then begin to question her sanity, before turning her into a tragic figure who’s turned to deception and murder to reunite with her daughter. Marie’s grief is palpable; she’s so tormented that she eats dirt, wishes to kill herself, and is later haunted by visions and nightmares that reflect both her guilt and her heinous actions. Marie’s fascination with Celeste speaks to the blinkered tragedy of losing a loved one; Marie will do anything, brave any danger, for a way to awaken her but cannot entertain the thought that her daughter is dead because to admit that would be to admit her culpability, and this is all wonderfully realised in the shocking and gory ending!
If you’re interested in checking out Sleeping Celeste, and to learn more about Alana K. Drex and her journey as an author, visit the links at the top of the page.
This was one of my top reads last year! Great review.