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Madeleine is Sleeping

3.51 of 5 stars 3.51  ·  rating details  ·  974 ratings  ·  178 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 276 pages
Published November 1st 2005 by Harcourt, Inc (first published September 1st 2004)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,487)
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Dawn Kaczmar
(review from

In Madeleine is Sleeping, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum intentionally creates a narrative that cultivates the ambiguity between the reality and dream-life of the protagonist, Madeleine. The trouble readers may have in separating the two worlds is deliberate: the two story lines weave into each other until one can no longer find their peripheries. Madeleine's real life seems just as fantastic as her dream life. Moreover, the consequences of Madeleine's dre
Jamie Felton
This is a story told in snatches of information laden with gossamer imagery and lush description. The creepy and the lovely are placed right on top of each other creating this feeling of wonder that all of these things can exist together. Madeleine is sleeping, and we are privy to her dreams as well as the world that is going on around her; however, the border between the two worlds is thin and permeable. Her dreams are filled with unusual people commonly categorized as "freaks" (I am a sucker f ...more
Jun 28, 2007 Danna rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: novels
I generally don't reread books, but I've returned to this book many times to dip back in and savor individual pages that read, and look, like prose poems. This is one book I haven't put on the shelf after reading, but kept on my night stand since 2004. I have yet to articulate, let alone pinpoint the fascination, but there is something about Bynum's language that speaks to me like oracle, something akin to an ancient augury, birds taking flight to the east (or perhaps it's just the ative prose a ...more


i like the *idea* of this book, but .................... does it lack charm? yes, maybe it lacks charm.

the dreaminess and the short passages (whose beginnings/endings sometimes made no sense) seemed to create chaos instead of adding ethereal tone. Or maybe just too much tone, not enough meat (abuse, s&m, a ginormous floating woman, sexuality, a circus ... the usual motifs that jennie from "the l word" would write about).

the story questions prose poem vs. prose story (the story told i
What a beautiful circle of a book. It was a bizarre one, and I loved it. Madeleine sleeps and as she stirs in her sleep we get to read what she is dreaming about. Her real and dream lives connect and take turns, becoming so indistinguishable that her reality could be her dream world and her dreams could be reality. Or maybe they are one and the same.

The language is gorgeous, cyclical, spare, beautifully crafted. It was hard for me to believe that Bynum wrote this book because it is so very diffe
A young girl's strange, erotic journey... The other reviews here pretty much say it all. The vignettes are simultaneously lovely and freaky, and Bynum doesn't stray for a second from the fairylike, haunting tone she sets on the first page. This book was crafted perfectly. As a story, though, there was something missing for me. I think maybe I just don't find sexual awakening and the ensuing social consequences interesting enough to carry an entire novel. Also, the freak show thing has since been ...more
Absolutely magical!!! I started this book not realizing what the format was going to be (small one-three paragraph chapters), which was a little off-putting at first. But then I started again on another night when I wasn't so tired and I am so glad that I did! This book is so beautiful, the prose blurring into poetry, the imagery creating a whole new world behind your eyes, complete with a fat lady who one day sprouts beautiful, fluttering wings. It is a sweet, sad melody that you cannot get out ...more
This is a really cool book. Handjobs, spanking, provincial France, a young girl's sexual awakening, disfigurement: what more could one want? Some of its quirkiness was off-putting at first (a fat woman who sprouts wings and a woman who looks like a viol are among the first characters introduced) but once the heart of the story emerged I was hooked. With beautiful writing and an admirably clever form for a simple and age-old story, all its quirkiness pays off as Madeleine's dreams and reality com ...more
I don't even know how to review this gorgeous book other than to say that I read it in many places, but the best was when I was sitting by the river on the first hot day of the year, the sun so bright that I could only see the page in front of me. Magic.
Celeste Ng
A truly wonderful book--both "full of wonders" and beautifully done. I didn't know what to expect from it, but I really enjoyed it. It's one of the most innovative books I've read in a long, long time, one of those books where you suddenly sit upright and whisper, "You can DO that?" It reminds me of why I wanted to be a writer in the first place.

Madeleine Is Sleeping is very much an experimentation in form, but what keeps it from being *just* experimental, and elevates it a well-crafted novel, i
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: these are all characters in Sarah Shun Li Bynum's marvelous gem of a novel. Composed in deceptively simple vignettes, Madeleine Is Sleeping follows the life of a young comatose girl in provincial France as she joins a circus, entangles herself in a bizarre love triangle, and discovers the power behind the dreamed and the e ...more
Small mouthfuls of story

A lyrical novel, whose form reminded me of Light Boxes and The Pink Institution, but the story, for all of its magical realism, is solid - the unique characters are well-formed and compelled by solid motivations (lust, romance, revenge, etc), the story has romance and suspense, all contained within a paragraph or so on each page, set off by a word or short phrase (for example: "Madeleine is sleeping" or "Stirring" or "Arcane"). As a writer, I found its form and lyricism i
Jun 13, 2014 Hanna added it
Shelves: 2010-reads
“Silently, Mimi vows: I will fill a hundred baskets for her.”

Madeleine is asleep. She peregrinates from dream to dream in a surreal world that is populated by lucid and utterly fascinating characters.

It reads like winter. It is enchanting. The words seem to leap from the pages and dance like flames. It is like seeing ominous dark clouds gathering overhead. It tastes like frozen apples. It feels like draping yourself with a thick velvet blanket. It sounds like icicles melting.

Sarah Shun-Lien Bynu
Lolly K Dandeneau
What a fantastically strange read. Madeleine Is Sleeping is like drinking from a strange nectar and then being caught in someone else's web of dreams. I didn't expect to enjoy this so much. I delighted in the flying 'fat woman' and the talented flatulent man. I will need to read this book over to really understand the fruit of it. I finished it in two days because I couldn't put it down, except to sleep and what an odd dream I had last night, lended by the novel I am guessing. Highly recommended ...more
Madeleine is Sleeping. The first time I read it, I made the mistake of trying to figure out what took place in her dream and what took place in real life. Thus, I could never tell what was actually HAPPENING, plotwise, though it was still good. Really, it doesn't even matter whether she's awake or asleep. That's kind of a subplot despite the title and summary. Madeleine is Sleeping is almost poetry, but it tells a very clear story. It is filled with many interesting motifs and symbols that are n ...more
jenna nims
I only let myself read a few pages a day of this book because I never wanted it to end. This is one of those books where I almost dont want to tell anyone about it because if they dont love it as much as they should then I am not sure that I could ever talk to them again...(lol) I love the prose style of writing, and the images that she puts in your head are amazing. This book is by far in my top 10 of all time. I must own a copy immediatley and read it once a year.
The first strike for this book was the mislabeling of "novel" stenciled on the front cover. I signed up to read a novel. This was not a novel. I can let that slide, sort-of, because it probably wasn't the author's fault that it was marketed as a full length novel. After it came in the mail, I opened it and was met with white space. Acres of white space. Ever optimistic, I thought, "Ok, quick read."

What should have taken me two sittings to read took me a week because there wasn't a strong story t
This was a National Book Award finalist. A gossamer work, of the type that has to be read on the right day, in the right light, the right mood, as it falls very softly on the psyche. I found the fragments very lovely in themselves but not compelling on the cumulative level--most likely a factor of my own rather carnivorous mood at the moment. Will definitely give this another try in the cool of a summer day, a more dreamy geist to my zeit.

Comas: a horror for those forced to see their loved one in that state and an intriguing in-between state for those in the coma. Madeleine is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum presents the blur between the worlds of the sleeping and the waking.

To read this, and other book reviews, visit my website:

In sleep, the borders between reality and dreams blurs for Madeleine and her family in provincial France. With images of a fat woman flying with her arm flaps an
Paolo Latini
Daydream Madeleine

Pare che Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum abbia frequentato i corsi di letteratura alla Brown. Brown significa Robert Coover e quella di Robert Coover è una non troppo velata presenza che svolazza e ridacchia tra le pagine di questo ibrido che, nella migliore lezione proprio di Coover, unisce e rimesta finzione favolistica e realtà grottesca. O per lo meno la lezione del Coover di Briar Rose, dei racconti di Pricksong and Descants, e del formidabile Pinocchio in Venice, il Coover che smon
surreal, somewhat grotesque, and very strange...I couldn't tell which parts were supposed to be really happening, and it was disturbing at some the brothers and sisters were eating the girl at one point and saying that she tasted burnt around the edges...not my kind of fairy tale.
Interesting premise where most of the story takes place as a dream / fantasy sequence w/ weird sexual overtones and an unsatisfying ending.
Martine Taylor
Difficult to rate. Surreal, poetic, sexual, deviant - such an odd book. A very interesting read due to the lush, original writing and experimental style. Less appealing to me was the subject matter: flatulence, deformities, abuse, uncomfortable sexuality. I appreciated the blurr between reality and dream, and the dark fairytale feel, but would have liked more resolution to story lines. I hope the author writes more. Her writing is so incredibly beautiful that I finished the book, even though ima ...more
For the first fifty pages or so (epub), I loved this book. Madeleine is sleeping, dreaming up beautiful dreams and spectacular characters and plots. Her Mother looks on, and the book goes like this for a while - switching from Madeleine's dreams to Mother, in the outside world, watching her daughter sleep.

But then I got extremely confused. Because Madeleine is, suddenly, also not sleeping...? And the characters she had dreamed up are modified (and less spectacular) participants in both her circu
Eleanor Toland
In a small French village, sometime in the early twentieth century, an enormously overweight woman walks through a market. Local children laugh and pelt her with handfuls of rancid butter, but she only smiles indulgently. Then she stops, hit by a searing pain in her left shoulder, which radiates across her back. The children stare, aghast. But the woman isn't having a heart attack. She sprouts two pairs of dragonfly wings and against the laws of physics, flits away into the sky.

Sadly, Madeleine

A luscious fairy tale and coming of age story written as a prose-poem. Reading it brings the sensation of falling into the world of dreams. One of the best things I've read this year. Highly recommended for anyone who loved THE NIGHT CIRCUS.

An excerpt:


Hush, 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 magnified and languorous, fingers floating to pursed li
Suzanne Lagrande
Here is the entire second chapter of Madeleine is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum:

Madeleine Dreams

A 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 fingers 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, fr
I wanted to like this. It sounded like something I should like. But on the first page I started feeling like the prose left me feeling cold and detached. People speak of it as "light," but speaking of certain things "lightly" seems inappropriate and disturbing. Some things are weighty, emotional, and I didn't get a lot of feeling in the writing, or through the characters. It seemed like their emotions were calculated to be as unique as possible, and they weren't particularly easy to relate to, u ...more
The synopsis for this novel is a bit misleading; however, I did not initially pick this up because of the summary. The format was what attracted me. Back in a writing class during my undergrad, we exclusively read books like these as assignments. Books written in poetic prose, stories written in what appear to be chunks of a whole. My professor called them "town" books, as if the book is writing about everybody in one specific place, if not at the same time or same place. This is a "Town" book.
I recommend this book for anyone in the mood to read something dreamy, poetic, floaty, artsy, and curious, and yet at the same time very matter-of-fact and blunt.

It's hard to say what this book is about. It takes place in the French countryside in a past century. There is a sleeping girl (non-spoiler: her name is Madeleine.) and we learn about her dreams, which involve people with strange bodily conditions and talents (such as the sensitive artist often referred to as the flatulent man, or the
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Sarah Shun-lien Bynum is an American writer.She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter and teaches writing and literature at UC San Diego.

Bynum is a graduate of Brown University and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Madeleine is Sleeping was published by Harcourt in 2004 and was a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. Her short stor
More about Sarah Shun-lien Bynum...
Ms. Hempel Chronicles Yurt My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales The Best American Short Stories 2009 Tin House: Fantastic Women

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“How terrible it is to recognize that one’s brilliance rests solely upon the small-mindedness of others.” 9 likes
“She hears the word bell, or orchard, or swallow, and she experiences a strange surprise, like the feel of a coin in the soil. These words make her wistful; they overwhelm her with longing. Not for her orchard, nor the bell in her church, nor the swallows that nest in the eaves of her house. For something else altogether, something she would have forgotten completely.

She wonders: Why should these words pierce me, if they are not the remains of a currency I once knew how to spend?”
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