Madeleine is Sleeping

Written by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
Review by Carol Anne Germain

In a provocative and bold stroke, Ms. Shun-Lien Bynum writes a most unusual novel, set in a fairy tale-like Belle-Époque France. “Chapters,” some as short as one sentence, most less than two pages, move the reader through the wild and eccentric dream/nightmare world of young Madeleine. A wide array of topics are explored, including child abuse—with her mother burning her hands for her naughtiness—masturbation, and sexual fantasy. The title character’s family watches over her as she dreams in a weird and surreal world. The book works from some traditional fairy tale/stories, such as the Brothers Grimm and the historical Madeleine, however it is very non-traditional in scope. By no means is this a leisurely read; the reader must work hard (reading it several times) to appreciate the author’s intent. This is a complex yet well written book, which was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award.