Genre: Fiction, Dystopian
Publisher: Delphinium Books
Release Date: August 7, 2018
In modern, beautiful Green City, the capital of South West Asia, gender selection, war and disease have brought the ratio of men to women to alarmingly low levels. The government uses terror and technology to control its people, and women must take multiple husbands to have children as quickly as possible.
Yet there are women who resist, women who live in an underground collective and refuse to be part of the system. Secretly protected by the highest echelons of power, they emerge only at night, to provide to the rich and elite of Green City a type of commodity that nobody can buy: intimacy without sex. As it turns out, not even the most influential men can shield them from discovery and the dangers of ruthless punishment.
This dystopian novel from one of Pakistan’s most talented writers is a modern-day parable, The Handmaid’s Tale about women’s lives in repressive Muslim countries everywhere. It takes the patriarchal practices of female seclusion and veiling, gender selection, and control over women’s bodies, amplifies and distorts them in a truly terrifying way to imagine a world of post-religious authoritarianism.
Before She Sleeps features an interesting enough society that is, unfortunately, not expanded upon enough because the focus of the novel is on the characters’ reactions to the world rather than the world itself.
It’s always a disappointment when an author chooses to focus solely on the characters at the expense of the world building. Dystopian novels like these excel when they’re grounded in a solid world. Whether the world building is believable from a realistic viewpoint is irrelevant as long as what’s being presented is consistent within the narrative. Before She Sleeps could’ve been a success had the author made more of an effort in terms of world building.
What initially caught my attention about this novel was the fact that the story revolves around women who are contracted out to give intimacy without sex since the ratio of men to women favours the men. I’ll admit that the idea of men being starved of intimacy without sex seems like a stretch, but Shah presents it in a believable setting. The characters all work in tandem to create this believable network of women within this highly patriarchal society.
Shah opens up the novel strongly with a solid ground for the characters to take root and grow. The reader is introduced to the world, key players, and the set up for the climax of the novel relatively early. However, after the first 75 pages, the novel takes on a fast pace that moves too quickly as convenience after convenience allows the plot to move forward. It’s a whirlwind of a novel that doesn’t have the impact it’s trying to attain.
Novels like these are always compared to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Atwood has set the standard for feminist dystopian novels high, as few have been able to achieve the same level of success and widespread acceptance. Unfortunately, Before She Sleeps doesn’t accomplish what Atwood was able to though it’s far from the worst feminist dystopian novel I’ve read. In my opinion, it’s faults lies in the poor world building and too fast pace.
Overall, Before She Sleeps is a decent novel in this overwritten genre that focuses almost solely on the characters at the expense of the world.
*** I was provided an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review.
3 thoughts on “Before She Sleeps – Bina Shah”
I haven’t heard of this one before, but it does have some nice ideas. Sucks that this one focuses on characters and a lot less on world-building, especially when there’s not enough world-building to support everything in this story! Great review, Nadine!
I hadn’t either until I stumbled upon on Netgalley. I’ll read anything compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, but I should really stop since I’ve been disappointing time after time. Thought, I’ve never read a a Pakistani writer before so I’m glad I got the chance.