Madeleine Is Sleeping

A National Book Award Finalist
A Young Lions Fiction Award Finalist
Winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize
A Washington Post Best Book of 2004


A beautiful, bold, visionary collage of a novel. Dreams and dreaming, love and longing, solitude and death, the recuperative powers of memory, the productive powers of imagination – these are some of the big subjects explored in Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s brilliant book.

– Joanna Scott, judges’ citation, Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for fiction by an American woman


“Madeleine Is Sleeping,” the lyrical novel by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum that was nominated for the National Book Award last year, has just come out in paperback. Though the main character sleeps her way through the entire length of the novel you, I predict, will stay awake, enamored of the book’s lyric flow and the rich skein of images. It’s a wonderful combination of Virginia Woolf and Freud and Jung, and Bynum’s own gifts for imagery and wordplay.
National Public Radio
The masterful way [Bynum] has kept her disappearing balls in the air – mostly by means of a voice at once sensuous and humorous, mellifluous and matter-of-fact – reminds of no one, unless it’s that wonderful dream-narrator we all possess, who tells us the most outlandish and dirty stories quite calmly, and doesn’t mind doubling us and others, or making things happen twice at the same time.
Washington Post
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s luminous debut novel, “Madeleine Is Sleeping,” a finalist for the National Book Award, is one of those mystifying books that dance between fantasy and reality, the dream world and the present moment, humor and pathos. Chock full of metaphors, deftly disguised allegories, allusions, and illusions, it is a hallucinogenic fairy tale that veers between the clinical clarity of hard fact and a surreal mysticism, with a huge fuzzy gray area in the middle that keeps the reader constantly off guard. Nothing is quite as simple as it seems.
Boston Globe
In Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s luminous and daring novel, the border between dreams and waking is not so much blurred as erased: Each delicious chapter – usually a page or less – is like a half-remembered episode from the depths of sleep, as indelible as it is fleeting. Story lines emerge, become entangled and then fade into the ether. And just when we think this oddball narrative is about to rise to the surface of wakefulness, we’re plunged once again into blissful doubt. The effect is haunting and often downright creepy, calling to mind magic-lantern shows, spectral photography, the sepia-toned surrealism of silent films by Guy Maddin.
Los Angeles Times
Almost every page offers something original, and no one will close “Madeleine Is Sleeping” without rediscovering how profound – and profoundly strange – adolescence is.
A small, enchanting novel that appeals to the naughty, insolent child in each of us.
USA Today
Those looking for a challenging, unusual read will be thrilled by the imagination and mysterious energy that haunt this remarkable debut.
Publishers Weekly, starred review
My assertion is that you will not have read a novel quite like “Madeleine Is Sleeping” because I hadn’t, until I read it.
The Rumpus
If dreams are filled with permutations of the impossible, then Sarah Shun-lien Bynum has tapped into the great unconscious, mined the vast pool of imagination and prepared a feast of the exotic, the erotic and the forbidden. Carefully incised, the human heart is revealed: the fragile chambers, the connections, the fumbling toward acceptance and understanding, ever-changing on a revolving stage.
Curled Up With A Good Book
Since it’s the dream that must first be protected, I’m grateful for the unruly extravagance of “Madeleine Is Sleeping,” its courageous insistence upon the strange, misshapen magic of claiming one’s own cracked voice.
The Lit Pub
Part of what attracts me to “Madeleine is Sleeping” is the way in which it reveals the language we use to talk about story as largely meaningless.
Uncanny Valley
This elliptical storytelling makes “Madeleine Is Sleeping” a little like the bad kids in high school that your parents warned you about hanging out with: The book encourages you to do bad things, things every good reader knows she shouldn’t, like jump around, create your own story, think. The storyteller is still clearly in charge, but she has less of a stranglehold than in most narratives, and part of the fun is devising an intricate series of bridges, ropes, and wires to hold the book together. Like “Pale Fire” this is a book that admonishes readers to employ multiple readings. Conversational Reading