Cover image for Madeleine is sleeping
Madeleine is sleeping
Bynum, Sarah Shun-lien.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Orlando, Fla. : Harcourt, [2004]

Physical Description:
259 pages ; 22 cm
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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When a girl falls into a deep and impenetrable sleep, the borders between her provincial French village and the peculiar, beguiling realm of her dreams begin to disappear: A fat woman sprouts delicate wings and takes flight; a failed photographer stumbles into the role of pornographer; a beautiful young wife grows to resemble her husband's viol. And in their midst travels Madeleine, the dreamer, who is trying to make sense of her own metamorphosis.

Part fairy tale, part coming-of-age story, this enchantingly inventive novel follows Madeleine as she leaves home, joins a gypsy circus, and falls into an unexpected triangle of desire and love.

Embracing the earthy and the ethereal, the comical and the poignant, Madeleine Is Sleeping is an adventure in the discovery of art, sexuality, community, and the self that transcends both time and place.

Author Notes

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum's fiction has appeared in the Georgia Review and Alaska Quarterly Review. She lives with her husband in Brooklyn, New York.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

An immensely obese woman who sprouts two magnificent pairs of wings, a lonely housewife who grows strings to match her husband's viol and a lascivious, wealthy widow are just a few of the fantastical characters who populate the enchanting world of Bynum's debut. Written in brief, dreamy segments (appropriately enough, since the title character has fallen into a Sleeping Beauty-like slumber), the book alternates deftly between reality and illusion as it follows Madeleine down a path of sexual, artistic and personal discovery. In a perverse revisitation of Ludwig Bemelmans's classic children's books, Madeleine, exiled to a Parisian convent from her pastoral French home after committing a rather scientific sex act with the village idiot, joins a band of gypsies who wind up performing for a widow with a love of photography and a penchant for the pornographic. As Madeleine grows entwined in an intensely erotic love triangle with the "flatulent man," M. Pujol, and Adrien, the photographer assigned to document the widow's grotesquely arranged tableaux, life at home grows worse for the family holding vigil over her as she sleeps. The book culminates in a masterful merge between Madeleine's waking life and her dreams, making it impossible to discern whether reality ever existed in Bynum's imaginative tale. Replete with Kafkaesque metamorphoses, Freudian fantasies, Aesopian justice and religious metaphor, the novel is equal parts fairy tale, fable, romance and bildungsroman. At times, the allegorical allusions grow predictable, and some readers may be put off by the constant shifts and uncertainty between fact and fiction. Others looking for a challenging, unusual read will be thrilled by the imagination and mysterious energy that haunt this remarkable debut. Agent, Bill Clegg. (Sept. 4) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Told in dreamlike fragmentsAand, indeed, our heroine has fallen into a Sleeping Beauty-like dozeAthis debut is the tale of a young woman who joins a gypsy circus and encounters love in all its manifestations. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Hushhush, mother says. Madeleine is sleeping. She is so beautiful when she sleeps, I do not want to wake her. The small sisters and brothers creep about the bed, their gestures of silence becoming magni?ed and languorous, ?ngers ?oating to pursed lips, tip toes rising and descending as if weightless. Circling about her bed, their frantic activity slows; they are like tiny insects suspended in sap, kicking dreamily before they crystallize into amber. Together they inhale softly and the room ?lls with one endless exhalation of breath: Shhhhhhhhhhhhh. Madeleine Dreamsa grotesquely fat woman lives in the farthest corner of the village. Her name is Matilde. When she walks to market, she must gather up her fat just as another woman gathers up her skirts, daintily pinching it between her ?ngers and hooking it over her wrists. Matilde's fat moves about her gracefully, sighing and rustling with her every gesture. She walks as if enveloped by a dense storm cloud, from which the real, sylph-like Matilde is waiting to emerge, blinding as a sunbeam. mme.cochonon market day, children linger in their doorways. They hide tight, bulging ?sts behind their backs and underneath their aprons. When Matilde sweeps by, trailing her luxurious rolls of fat behind her, the children shower her. They ?ing bits of lard, the buttery residue scraped from inside a mother's churn, the gristle from Sunday dinner's lamb. The small ?stfuls have grown warm and slippery from the children's kneading, and the air is rich with a comforting, slightly rancid smell. Mme. Cochon, are you hungry? they whisper as she glides by. Matilde thinks she hears curiosity in their voices. She smiles mildly as she continues on, dodging the dogs that have run out onto the street, snuf?ing at the scraps. It feels, somehow, like a parade. It feels like a celebration. surpriseonce, as matilde made her way through the falling fat, she was startled by a peculiar but not unpleasant throb, which originated in her left shoulder but soon travelled clockwise to the three other corners of her broad back. She wondered if the children were now hurling soup bones, and made an effort to move more swiftly, but suddenly the joyous barrage slowed to a halt. The children stood absolutely still, lips parted, yellow butter dripping onto their shoes. They stared at her with a curiosity Matilde did not recognize. Hearing a restless ?uttering behind her, she twisted about and glimpsed the frayed edges of an iridescent wing. With great caution, she ?exed her meaty shoulder blades and to her delight, the wing ?apped gaily in response. Matilde had, indeed, ?edged two pairs of ?imsy wings, the lower pair, folded sleekly about the base of her spine, serving as auxiliary to the grander ones above. flightleaping clumsily, all four wings ?apping, her fat, like sandbags, threatening to ground her, Matilde greets the air with arms spread wide open. A puff of wind lifts the hem of her skirts, seems to tickle her feet, a Excerpted from Madeleine Is Sleeping: A Novel by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.