Nadja Kulka was convicted of a serious crime as a child, did her time, and is doing her best to move on. She lives a quiet, lonely life, happy for even the slightest attention given her by the closest thing she has to a friend — a woman named Laura. Laura’s been keeping to herself lately, but when something in her life goes horribly wrong, she runs to Nadja for help.
Soon, Nadja finds herself entangled in the violent aftermath of an extramarital affair gone wrong. Nadja, Laura, and Laura’s husband, Gero, all have their own agendas and objectives, and it all comes to a head with life-altering consequences.
It sounds pretty straightforward, but this novel by Romy Hausmann is anything but straightforward. It’s written in a deliberately vague style that relies heavily on plot twists and revelations to drive the story. In fact, it takes about a hundred pages or so before the reader gets even the most rudimentary grasp on what’s going on.
This style is fine for those who enjoy it, and Hausmann does a good job of keeping the intrigue high. Unfortunately, Sleepless falters in two very important places: the characters, and the payoff.
All I’ll say about the payoff is that it seems underwhelming after the whirlwind of events, reveals, and surprises that precede it. It’s satisfying enough, but barely escapes triteness.
As for the characters, most are barely developed, and Hausmann uses so much subterfuge to keep us guessing about who is doing what and why, what characterization there is lost in the shuffle. Nadja is front and center for the majority of the book, but it’s hard to know if we’re supposed to feel sympathy for her when so much of her motivation is hidden in the shadows.
Sleepless will no doubt find its audience, as it’s a well-constructed if sometimes overly-convoluted thriller. Personally, I’d rather spend a hundred pages getting to know my characters as opposed to reading vague, unattributed recollections that are supposed to pay off down the line. But, as always, your mileage may vary.