TITLE: THE SOMNAMBULIST
AUTHOR: ESSIE FOX
PUBLISHER: ORION BOOKS
GENRE: HISTORICAL FICTION
COVER TYPE: PAPER BACK
BLURB FROM THE COVER
Every heart holds a secret.
But some secrets are best left buried.
When she spots an enigmatic stranger in the audience at Wilson’s Music Hall, seventeen-year-old Phoebe Turner doesn’t realise her life is about to change. Mr Samuels offers her the job of companion to his reclusive wife at Dinwood Court – a grand country house that may well be haunted and which holds dark secrets.
Leaving the hustle of London’s East End, Phoebe finds herself unnerved by her new surroundings. She awakes to hear sobbing in the night and it soon becomes clear that she has not been chosen to work there by chance.
THE OPENING LINE
I’d been to Wilton’s hall before.
The Somnambulist is an impressive debut. I picked it up at the library because the blurb implied it was supernatural fiction. I got the impression it was a Victorian ghost story. There’s nothing supernatural about it. It’s a Victorian mystery novel. I thought The Somnambulist was great. Fox’s second novel is also at the library. I intend to seek it out.
The Somnambulist is narrated mostly in the first person from Phoebe’s point of view. I thought her voice was very strong and intimate. I got sucked into the novel and effortlessly carried along. I enjoy reading novels written in the first person. It doesn’t always work. Fox pulls it off in The Somnambulist.
Fox characterisation was spot on. There’s quite a large cast of characters and Fox manages to make each of them unique and believable. Phoebe is completely convincing. I think she came across well as a naïve s17-year-old. The best character in the whole novel is Maud Turner, Phoebe’s mother. She’s a religious fanatic obsessed with following the path of the righteous and who sees sin everywhere. She reminded me of Margaret White in Carrie by Stephen King. That’s a compliment. The other characters were as real and believable. There wasn’t a single stereotype or cardboard cut-out among them.
I was impressed by the quality of the writing in The Somnambulist. The language is simple and gets to the point. This made a pleasant change after struggling through the difficult language of Nightwood by Djuana Barnes and All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. The descriptions were vivid and memorable. I was impressed by Fox’s talent as a writer and how much I enjoyed The Somnambulist.
The Somnambulist is set in Victorian England. Fox does a great job of creating a sense of place. She brings this period in history to vivid, powerful life. I was impressed.
The Somnambulist is full of suspense. Fox does a great job of gradually building this. She lures the reader, scene by scene into a world of lost love, grief, murder and madness. The pacing was perfect.
There are sporadic chapters throughout where the narrator moves from first person in Phoebe’s voice to third person from Mr Samuels’s point of view. These jarred. They interrupted the smooth flow of the novel and the narrative voice was much weaker.
I think The Somnambulist is a great novel. It’s a well-written, well-paced suspense / murder mystery set in Victorian England. The Somnambulist is well worth a read. I thought it was great.