The Somnabulist by Essie Fox
The Somnambulist is the story of Phoebe, a teenage girl living in Victorian London with her fanatical religious mother and free spirited Aunt Cissy who works in the theatre. Despite knowing her mother will disapprove, Phoebe goes to watch Aunt Cissy perform on stage, and witnesses afterwards a conversation between her Aunt and a mysterious handsome stranger, Nathaniel Samuels. From this point on, the lives of Phoebe, her mother and Cissy change as Phoebe leans more of her Aunt’s past and the secrets at the heart of her family.
The Sonambulist was an enjoyable if not a memorable read. The story is mainly narrated by Phoebe in the first person, but I never felt very connected to her throughout the story and despite the intimacy of the first person, I never really got to know her on more than a superficial level. This was a theme throughout the book, as I felt that the characters were underdeveloped, and, particularly in the case of Maud, a little cliched.
The story was well paced and flowed coherently to the conclusion. The twists and turns were quite predictable. However I think that the author managed this well enough that it did not detract from the story, as I never became frustrated that Phoebe had not made the connections that I had managed to.
Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, The Somnambulist does touch on some very dark issues, but only superficially. I think that there is a huge potential within the novel to explore these a little deeper, and in particular, I would have liked to see Phoebe’s complex relationship with and feelings towards Joseph Samuels (Nathaniel’s son) to be explored in more depth. If she had taken the story and the characters just that little bit deeper, I think she would have created something much more compelling, and much more memorable.