By Alistair Morgan
The blurb on the back of Sleeper’s Wake reads “In the aftermath of the car crash that killed his wife and daughter, John Wraith travels to a remote resort on the South African coast. There he meets Jackie, a disturbed young woman of seventeen, and is immediately and dangerously drawn to her.” The word wraith means ghost or spirit, and for someone who has recently lost his family, John is a kind of walking ghost, shocked and puzzled, detached from the processes of everyday life. Yet for all our sympathy, there is something odd and unappealing about the protagonist. Morgan draws a very fine line between suggestion and definition, the effect of which is to create a ghost-like narrator whose comments and subsequent behaviour do not add up. Wraith’s journey to the South African coast takes us to a landscape uncomfortably mixing human civilization and the forces of nature and it is here that John re-engages with life, though in doing so further ambiguities and dangers are revealed. Perhaps the excellent parts of the book – the style, atmosphere, characters – do not quite add up to a satisfying whole; personally I felt a little disappointed and wondered whether it would have been better as a long short story, but it is an interesting read by a new talent.