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Madeleine is Sleeping

3.5  ·  Rating Details ·  1,078 Ratings  ·  192 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)
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Jamie Felton
Mar 14, 2008 Jamie Felton rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, fairytale
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 ...more
Dec 16, 2009 Danna rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 15, 2009 khatch rated it it was ok


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
Apr 27, 2016 Katie rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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
Aug 13, 2008 Karen rated it really liked it
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
Jun 30, 2009 Kristi rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 20, 2013 Marie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
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.
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Oct 20, 2009 Visha rated it really liked it
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
Lolly K Dandeneau
Mar 18, 2010 Lolly K Dandeneau rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 09, 2009 Janet rated it really liked it
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.

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.
Feb 24, 2013 Jenny rated it it was ok
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.
Jan 03, 2009 Melisa rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction-adult
Interesting premise where most of the story takes place as a dream / fantasy sequence w/ weird sexual overtones and an unsatisfying ending.
Paolo Latini
Jul 29, 2014 Paolo Latini rated it liked it
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
Suzanne Lagrande
Sep 09, 2014 Suzanne Lagrande rated it it was amazing
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

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
Mar 22, 2015 Amy rated it liked it
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
Oct 07, 2010 Pseudonym rated it it was ok
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, ...more
Mar 21, 2014 Amanda rated it it was ok
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
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.
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
Apr 25, 2012 Liana rated it liked it
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
May 29, 2009 Lindsay rated it liked it
Recommended to Lindsay by: Birthday Present from Mom
I read "Madeleine Is Sleeping" after "Ms. Hempel Chronicles," taking them out of their publication date order. This earlier work is a truly original piece of writing comprised of a number of vignettes about the young Madeleine, her family in their provincial French town, an odd collection of wandering carnies, and oh yes a fat woman who suddenly sprouts wings and begins tracking her fecal deposits. The story is completely whimsical, as though it was plucked from the brain of an unsuspecting, ...more
Aug 03, 2015 Jen rated it liked it
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
Mar 20, 2014 Mayra rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Apr 09, 2010 Steve rated it really liked it
madeleine is sleeping is a truly delightful venture into the magical and mysterious world of a sleeping child. One might think, from the title, that this is a story for children, or a sweet innocent read for a Sunday afternoon in the park; one would be wrong. As in life, some of the things that transpire in this novel are anything but sweet. However, no matter how dark the subject, when seen through the innocent eyes, or dreams, as the case may be, of a child, they take on an airy quality that ...more
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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 sto
More about Sarah Shun-lien Bynum...

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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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