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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gothic Masterpiece
Essie Fox's beautiful writing takes the reader by the hand, leading, like the somnabulist of the title, through a dream-like journey from London to Herefordshire and back again. From the gritty urban streets of Victorian Bow to a large haunting country estate, we follow Phoebe Turner as her life begins to unravel. Each page brings new mysteries that lure us in to the...
Published on 23 May 2011 by Emma Jolly

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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievably dreary
I wanted to like this book. It seemed to promise so much, a Gothic tale of dark secrets and mystery.

Unfortunately, it failed to live up to its promise.

I won't precis the whole story here, as other reviewers have done that. Suffice to say, 17 year old heroine lives with awful Mother and lovely Aunt, until Aunt dies, and then Things Happen...
Published on 29 Feb 2012 by Lois Yorke


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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gothic Masterpiece, 23 May 2011
By 
Emma Jolly - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Somnambulist (Hardcover)
Essie Fox's beautiful writing takes the reader by the hand, leading, like the somnabulist of the title, through a dream-like journey from London to Herefordshire and back again. From the gritty urban streets of Victorian Bow to a large haunting country estate, we follow Phoebe Turner as her life begins to unravel. Each page brings new mysteries that lure us in to the increasingly Gothic world that Essie Fox has created.
I was utterly gripped by the story, and found the book hard to put down. The contemporary details have been throughly researched, from the sights and sounds of Wilton's Music Hall to the landscape and furnishings of the large stately home. Phoebe's fear and emotions are well conveyed, as are the moral and religious sentiments of late Victorian England. Each character is fully realized, obliging sympathy even where their passions override their sanity.
The Somnambulist has all the dark moodiness and dreamy madness of a true Victorian Gothic tale, but is grounded with a 21st century wisdom towards issues like racism and mental health.
Overall, this novel takes on a classic genre to create a unique masterpiece of 21st century Gothic writing.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievably dreary, 29 Feb 2012
By 
Lois Yorke (Oxfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Somnambulist (Paperback)
I wanted to like this book. It seemed to promise so much, a Gothic tale of dark secrets and mystery.

Unfortunately, it failed to live up to its promise.

I won't precis the whole story here, as other reviewers have done that. Suffice to say, 17 year old heroine lives with awful Mother and lovely Aunt, until Aunt dies, and then Things Happen.

My main gripe is that the whole thing is so dull. The characters are dreary and formulaic; Mother has to be awful and religious, Aunt has to be free spirited, heroine has to be rebellious, mystery man's wife has to be mad etc. But worse than this it was just hard work reading the book. The language was way too overdone and clunky, you were always aware that you were reading, whereas with the best books, you are so into the story that you are not aware you are sat there reading - it's just all going on in your mind. With this book, I felt too bogged down with the language and the structure and the rather weak plotting.

And the central character, Phoebe, was a miserable little Madam. Come to think of it, they were all a pretty joyless bunch!

As I say, hard work.

So much so that, half way through, I realised I didn't care about any of them and didn't care what was going to happen to any of them.

So I gave it up, which I very rarely do. In this case, I felt there were much better books out there.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars All the ingredients with none of the gothic spark!, 31 Jan 2012
By 
Sarah Durston (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Somnambulist (Paperback)
I'm a big fan both of Victoriana and Gothic novels so I was really looking forward to reading `The Somnambulist.' The story is fairly familiar; a young and innocent girl ends up living away from her stifling mother as the companion of a frail and wealthy wife of a businessman. So far so good and all the archetypal characters are present and correct; a mother who has been in mourning for many years, a haughty and wealthy heir to the family fortune, a mysterious butler.

Whilst I found the book quite enjoyable, I couldn't help comparing it to those it had obviously been influenced by: Jane Eye; Wuthering Heights; The Castle of Otranto; Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Mysteries of Udolpho and so on and sadly it just doesn't compare. I have to agree with some of the other reviewers that there were quite a lot of incongruities both in language and behaviour and whereas the great Gothic novels hint at what is happening (and therefore create suspense and horror because of the detail that is left to the imagination) The Somnambulist practically bangs you over the head with explicit and unpleasant detail.

This will pass a few hours and was enjoyable enough but I've seen it done better by other modern authors, such as Michael Faber, or I would go back and rediscover your Gothic classics!
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35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely piece of Victoriana, 25 May 2011
This review is from: The Somnambulist (Hardcover)
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I am so pleased that The Sonambulist caught my eye. It is a lovely piece of Victoriana, and a quite wonderful debut novel.

I fell in love with the heroine. Phoebe Turner was just seventeen years old, and she was warm bright and thoughtful. In some ways she was very mature for her years, but in others she was very innocent, and as I learned more of her background I could understand why.

Phoebe grew up, in the East End of London, with her mother and her aunt. Maud, her mother, was a member of The Hallelujah Army, set upon promoting that society's ideals and protecting her daughter from the many evils of the world. Those evils included the music hall where her sister, Phoebe's Aunt Cissy sang ...

Essie Fox paints Phoebe's world wonderfully. There is a wealth of detail that brings the streets, the homes, and most of all the music hall, to life. She clearly has so much knowledge and love, but she wears it lightly and it brings the story to life quite wonderfully.

And it was clear that there was a story to be told, and secrets to be uncovered.

Phoebe loved her aunt and her aunt's theatrical friends, and she was devastated when Cissy, suddenly, died. Maude was devastated too, at having to cope without the income that Cissy earned for the household, and she struggled. Maybe that was why she accepted an offer from Mr Samuels, a wealthy friend of Cissy's who she had always treated with disdain, for Phoebe to become the companion of his invalid wife ...

And so the story opened up. There were more wonderful pictures of another, very different, aspect of Victorian England. And there were more vivid, complex characters to meet. Phoebe knew that she would miss her home and her loved ones, but she was curious about what lay ahead. I felt just the same.

Phoebe travelled to a grand estate in Hertfordshire. Dinwood Court was a splendid gothic mansion, set in magnificent countryside, but both house and occupants were haunted by the strange death of Esther, the young daughter of the house ...

At Dinwood Court I heard the echoes of other novels of Victorian England. They were lovely to hear, and I realised that Essie Fox had wonderful influences, influences that she had acknowledged and then taken to make something new of her own.

I loved watching Phoebe as she uncovered the secrets of the past, and as she learned and grew up.

The plotting was very clever and, though I worked out some of the things that would happen, others took me by surprise. In particular, the concluding chapters took the story in a direction that I hadn't expected at all, but a direction that was completely right.

That kept the pages turning, and so did the lovely writing, the pitch perfect characters and settings, the wealth of knowledge that underpinned the story, and that very clever theme set in the title that wrapped around everything.

The Sonambulist is a wonderful debut novel, intelligent and so very readable.

I am already looking forward to whatever Essie Fox writes next.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Gothic mystery set in real life London locations, 21 Nov 2014
By 
thebooktrailer (Whereever a book takes us) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Somnambulist (Paperback)
A thrilling journey around the sites and sounds of the theatre and music hall world of Victorian london. The research is impeccable and the sights sounds and smells of the time period are all closely researched and mentioned at the end of the book. A real intro to an exciting time period!

Story in a nutshell

Phoebe Turner, 17, visits Wilton’s Music Hall to watch her Aunt Cissy performing on stage. She is captivated by the dancing and the music. Unlike her mother Maud who supports the Hallelujah Army, campaigning 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 — a house that may well be haunted and which holds the darkest of truths.

The start of an amazing gothic tale for Phoebe for the house reveals a lot of mysteries and secrets.

Place and setting

There’s a list of places in the back of the book which refer to the real places in and around London where you really should go to step inside this world that Essie has crafted so well.

She has painted quite a wonderful picture of a new view of Victorian London and a range or cast of characters that could quite easily be on the stage for real.

“You know… every heart holds its secrets”

And with the best of gothic mysteries, there is a big dark empty house full of mystery and intrigue. Something has happened there or in the dark wood surrounding the house and Phoebe, sharing a house with a reclusive woman, is the one to investigate what is going on.

Essie loves the Victorian period and it shows – not only in the descriptions and fleshing out of the characters but in the landscapes and settings so carefully brought back to life. This is a novel of the sights and sounds of a bygone era in London and a spooky one at that.

Don’t forget to visit Hampton Court in Herefordshire on which the fictional Dinwood Court is modelled - http://www.hamptoncourt.org.uk/. Mind you if you see this painting hanging anywhere, you might want to start worrying…
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not very spellbinding..., 30 May 2011
By 
Charliecat (Oxfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Somnambulist (Hardcover)
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I was looking forward to reading The Somnambulist because I'm partial to a bit of Victorian gothic however I was little disappointed.

Seventeen year old Phoebe Turner lives with her fanatically religious and frankly deeply unpleasant mother Maud and her beautiful Aunt Cissy in London's East End. Aunt Cissy is a music hall star with dark secrets in her past. When Cissy dies unexpectedly and Phoebe and her mother are left without means of support Phoebe goes to Herefordshire to act as a ladies companion to Mrs Samuels, the wife of Cissy's old flame, Nathaniel Samuels. In Herefordshire Phoebe encounters more dark secrets and lies.

The story promises mystery, madness and murder so I was geared up for some Victorian sensation however the story turned out to be slow going with very little interest. The secrets are quite transparent and much of Cissy's dark past is obvious from the beginning. I didn't really feel that involved with any of the characters and the gothic atmosphere I expected was sadly lacking. I didn't get a feel for the music hall scenes in London and I didn't get the gothic suspense I would expect from a ghostly Victorian country house story.

It seems a shame because this was a story which could have been much better if it wasn't so formulaic. It seems that the author wanted to cram the story full of everything Victorian, from the bustling London streets, to the music halls, to a dark gothic country mansion but failed to explore any of them to their full potential.

Overall it's a fair first novel but it wasn't as good as I was expecting or as good as I was hoping.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ups and downs, 9 Oct 2011
By 
Nicola in South Yorkshire "nicola_in_southyorks" (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Somnambulist (Hardcover)
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This book covers the story of Phoebe Turner, a young woman who lives with her puritanical mother, and her glamorous singer aunt, Cissy. To say much more would give away key facts about the story, but it's basically about Phoebe finding out who she really is.

This is quite a classic style Victorian gothic novel, with the ubiquitous seances that seem to pop up in every Victorian story, together with music halls, a painting by a Pre-Raphaelite, and a good dose of melodrama.

I felt it got off to a slow start, but picked up again and then dipped to the point where I was quite bored by it and wanted it to end. It's a book of ups and downs for me, as I enjoyed some parts and not others. I don't think it's a particularly strong story really, and it maybe lacked something because it was all in the first person, so lost a bit of the emotion.

It wasn't a total disaster for me, hence the three stars, but certainly not a book I would rave about.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Victorian melodrama, 1 Dec 2013
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This review is from: The Somnambulist (Kindle Edition)
If you liked the Night Circus, you'll enjoy this. Well written and imaginative. Only quibble is with a particular plot twist that doesn't quite work for me regarding the character's motivation for their behaviour. Shan't spoil it by revealing it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars loving this book, 11 Dec 2012
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This review is from: The Somnambulist (Paperback)
Great book, really don't want it to end, looking forward to the next one, it's already on my xmas list, the book arrived quickly & in great condition, thank you
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delicious Gothic fruit cake of a book, 6 Nov 2011
This review is from: The Somnambulist (Hardcover)
This was a peach, which I described it as a "great Gothic fruit cake" on Twitter. I'm not sure I've read many "Gothic" novels other than The Mysteries of Udolpho (and that was over 20 years ago), but you kind of know what the ingredients need to be, just like you can probably knock together a decent apple crumble without knowing precisely what goes into it. You'll need a strong central narrator, ideally first person. You'll need extraordinary things happening to them. You'll need larger-than-life, near-grotesque characters. You'll need an otherworldly setting. And you'll need dark secrets in closets which tumble out in a steaming mess.

And The Somnambulist has all these things, to be sure. But the reason I particularly liked it is that it didn't mock its medium. It took its story - and its central character, Phoebe - seriously, and it took its mode seriously and did it well. It was breathless when it needed to be breathless, weird when it needed to be weird, overwrought when it needed to be overwrought.

More than that, this was the most intensely feminine story I've read in a long time. Essie describes the physical sense of being a woman really, really well. She describes clothing, washing, eating, sleeping and other more intimate stuff in ways which I think a man could never manage, and it left me with a real sense that Phoebe was living and breathing.

And the history is not overdone. It's there, it adds detail and a strangeness of context which makes the Gothic narrative possible, but it doesn't get in the way as it can do with other stories. A good story, well told. Recommended.
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The Somnambulist
The Somnambulist by Essie Fox (Paperback - 5 Jan 2012)
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