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The Somnambulist by Essie Fox

The Somnambulist (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Essie Fox

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1631873,133 (3.4)13
Title:The Somnambulist
Authors:Essie Fox
Info:Orion (2011), Hardcover, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, England, Victorian England, music, art, romance

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The Somnambulist by Essie Fox (2011)



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This captivating book, which takes its name from the painting by Millais, quickly immerses the reader into the theatrical world of late 19th century London. It is the story of Phoebe, brought up by her strict religious mother Maud and her glamorous ex-actress aunt Cissy. Phoebe's life is a network of lies which cause her to sleepwalk through life. Despite her best intentions she makes the wrong choices and her fascination for the mysterious Nathaniel Samuels could be the worst or best decision of her life. With echoes of 19th century writers, such as the Bronte sisters, this beautifully written novel uses imagery and themes of murder and deceit, leading ultimately to forgiveness and redemption. Definitely the best book I have read this year. ( )
  Somerville66 | May 29, 2017 |
As a huge fan of Victorian Gothic and Victorian Fiction, I immediately knew that I had to read this book when I first saw it because the plot sounded really appealing to me: “a spellbinding tale of lost love, grief, murder and madness in Victorian England” But as you can see with my rating, I’m very disappointed and it was a very average read for me.

This book starts very slowly and I was tempted to quit reading at first, but I kept on and it got better the longer I read. The book is divided into three parts with the first part being the most boring. Personally I think some of the first chapters could have been left out to the benefit of the story overall, but that’s just my opinion. The second part starts with one surprise but the moment recedes quickly and the second part continues as the one before. For me the best part of the book began in the third part and I really started to like the story. It became quite interesting and it reminded me more of Victorian Fiction than the rest of the book.

The narrator for most parts of the story is Phoebe Turner, a seventeen-year-old girl who regularly visits Wilton’s Music Hall to watch her Aunt CIssy performing on stage. She’s captivated by her singing and the dancing on stage. On the contrast her mother Maud supports the Hallelujah Army which campaigns for all London theatres to close. But Phoebe’s love of the theatre continues to grow. soon she meets a stranger who introduces himself as Nathaniel Samuels. 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.

This book has good characterizations and manages to avoid the trite. Some of the “mysteries” that puzzle Phoebe are very obvious for the reader right at the start of the book and I expected more complications and twists to make the reading worthwhile. But as already said the story has some surprises ready at the end.

I’m still looking forward to her other books (Elijah’s Mermaid & The Goddess and the thief ) ( )
  BookishSolace | Mar 18, 2016 |
This is too slight a story to hold up a book of this length. ( )
  Violetthedwarf | Oct 23, 2014 |
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 |
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I'd been to Wilton's Hall before.
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Book description
'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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