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The Somnambulist by Essie Fox
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The Somnambulist (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Essie Fox

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1361588,280 (3.47)11
Member:klpm
Title:The Somnambulist
Authors:Essie Fox
Info:Orion (2011), Hardcover, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:fiction, England, Victorian England, music, art, romance

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The Somnambulist by Essie Fox (2011)

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
The Somnambulist (the sleepwalker) is an attempt at the 'Victorian Gothic' - a genre that plays with ghostly or unearthly elements intruding into the everyday. It's a form that was popular when what is now 'victoriana' was just ordinary, and there's a renewal of interest today, when that element has an added historical cachet.
The novel is quite well set up, with a household of women divided between association with the music hall, and a devotion to the 'Hallelujah Army' (a very thinly disguised Salvation Army) The elements are there for gothic mystery - two very different sisters; a daughter that seems to have far more affinity with her aunt than her mother; a dead father. Then, when Phoebe the daughter sneaks out to the wicked music hall with her aunt Cissy who is making her comeback, both Phoebe and the reader are introduced to dangerous new people and feelings.
Sadly, the assurance of the beginning is not sustained. We could forgive the extremely obvious 'secret' of Phoebe's birth if there was something more behind it, or if Essie Fox made proper use of the device whereby the reader can see and understand more than the narrator. But Phoebe just seems rather stupid, and there is no tension at all, each 'revelation' is more of an annoyance than a surprise.
Essie Fox knows a great deal about the era, and the incidental detail is good, but the prose feels rather laboured, and she uses some very irritating anachronisms in her language that are jarring and feel lazy (I won't go into them - it makes me look like a pedant!) People who have compared her with Sarah Waters should look more carefully at the differences in ther command of language.
Overall the book is rather too long, and the plot is not taut enough - it needed to be edited more severely. I wanted to like it, but I must confess to a feeling of relief that I've finally finished it. ( )
1 vote Goldengrove | Jun 1, 2013 |
The Somnabulist by Essie Fox is another take on the increasingly popular Victorian gothic melodrama. It concerns Phoebe, the daughter of Maud Turner, who lives with her mother and aunt in the east end of London in the 1880s. The backdrop is Victorian music halls and spiritualism, with the usual (very heavy) dose of family secrets, strange happenings, mysterious characters and misplaced lusts.
Fox has written a real potboiler, I guess trying to emulate the melodramas of Collins and Dickens; convoluted, interwoven plots, where nothing should be taken for granted, but all is revealed in the end. I didn't dislike the book, but I did find the narrative rather wearing after a while; it was as though the author was trying too hard to convince the reader that she had all the gothic ingredients and wasn't afraid to use them generously. Most of the book is told by Phoebe, but there are some stylistically clunky chapters told in the third person, and this compounded an uneven narrative. But on the whole the dialogue was convincing, and most of the characters rang true.
This isn't a badly written book, but I felt that it tried too hard...coincidence after coincidence followed one after the other, and on reflection there was probably one or two too many. It may have been best to have left a few loose ends loose, tying them all up seemed to stretch credibility too far, even allowing for the type of novel it is; the explanatory backstory concerning Mr Stephens is a case in point.
I was drawn to The Somnabulist because of its subject matter and because I love historical fiction, but there are better writers out there doing this sort of stuff - Sarah Waters, Barbara Ewing and Andrew Taylor, to name just a few. Still, I'd definitely read another book by Essie Fox and she's one to watch.
© Koplowitz 2012 ( )
  Ant.Harrison | Apr 28, 2013 |
Good depiction of the era and a light read. But plot could have been much tighter. ( )
  sianpr | Jan 24, 2013 |
We've seen quite a number of new books in Victorian style of late, some better than others. Common features include murder, a touch of the supernatural, séances, secluded country houses, dark secrets - all the hallmarks of Victorian gothic. This is a reasonably successful foray into the territory, with a couple of nice extra touches: crusading religion and music hall (nicely antipathetic to each other). There's also some commentary on the mores of the period, in a way that you wouldn't find in a contemporaneous novel, where the author would be more likely to share the prejudices of the characters.

I thought it a little over-long - the pace flagged a bit at one stage, but it does enough to keep you involved nonetheless. On balance, a good read. ( )
  GeraniumCat | Oct 6, 2012 |
Phoebe Turner's Aunt Cissy has always been glamorous and exciting unlike her mum Maud. On a rare visit to the music hall where Cissy is performing she realises there are secrets, and when Cissy dies not long afterwards she begins to understand there are secrets that have something to do with the strangely alluring Nathaniel Samuels.

This was a quick, easy and enjoyable read. ( )
  mari_reads | Sep 6, 2012 |
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I'd been to Wilton's Hall before.
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'Some secrets are better left buried...' When seventeen-year old Phoebe Turner visits Wilton's Music Hall to watch her Aunt Cissy performing on stage, she risks the wrath of her mother Maud who marches with the Hallelujah Army, campaigning for all London theatres to close. While there, Phoebe is drawn to a stranger, the enigmatic Nathaniel Samuels who heralds dramatic changes in the lives of all three women. When offered the position of companion to Nathaniel's reclusive wife, Phoebe leaves her life in London's East End for Dinwood Court in Herefordshire - a house that may well be haunted and which holds the darkest of truths. In a gloriously gothic debut, Essie Fox weaves a spellbinding tale of guilt and deception, regret and lost love.
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When 17-year old Phoebe Turner visits Wilton's Music Hall to watch her Aunt Cissy performing on stage, she risks the wrath of her mother Maud who marches with the Hallelujah Army, campaigning for all London theatres to close. While there, Phoebe is drawn to a stranger, the enigmatic Nathaniel Samuels.… (more)

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