“The Somnambulist” by Essie Fox: Book Review
Bit of a book of two halves, this one.
I liked it as an easy read. There was a sufficiently complex plot and a sense of purpose in page-turning. There were a lot of things I didn’t like about it, but overall, I think I enjoyed it.
But first there are the things I didn’t like:
There was the whole Acis and Galatea inspiration thing. I don’t think it worked. Even if it did work, I didn’t find it sufficiently interesting to apply my mind to, to see how it worked. I find these wee recurrent things kind of smug. Annoying. Exactly the kind of cheesy device I would use.
Then there was the character of Samuels. Touch of the “time travellers wife” going on with the underage beginnings of the romance with Cissy. Even though he waited, it was a bit icky for the reader that he felt he was waiting.
Then there was the totally unnecessary incestuous rape. Why do novelists insist on putting horrrendous and regrettable incidents in books, even when the plot does not require it? Fox even had the opportunity to lessen the horror somewhat by having Joseph be Stephens’s son. But she chose to have him as Phoebe’s half-brother which was a poor choice. The rape was horrendous enough, but the irredeemable relationship with her brother was a tragedy.
And then there was Stephens. He was sinister enough when we thought he was just Mrs Samuel’s fancy-man. Ew. Gross.
In the middle ground was the character of Maud. I don’t think I understood her. Either that or she was poorly characterised. There seemed to be no consistency. I know she was meant to be inconsistent and hypocritical, but there didn’t seem to be any consistency about her inconsistency. Maybe she was human. Maybe Fox kept forgetting what she was like.
On the up side was the setting: “greasepaint, tobacco and sweat” with all the opportunities and anxieties that the music hall managed to create. London, also good – full of random characters with dubious motivations. The country property too was full of plot potential. Some of which we could have done without.
The basic plot was good too. I feel the need to write, in italics bildungsroman but I am not sure why and I’m not convinced it is one.
But Phoebe is on a compelling journey of discovery about herself and there are sufficient twists and turns to make it interesting.
I think I liked her. She was human, flawed, floundering, loyal, idealistic although a bit … living in a world of inverse morals. Which is just annoying.
Actually that was annoying. The fraudulent medium and her friends are the good guys and the Christians are the bad guys. The rich man is the good guy despite the fact that he leads two women up the garden path and sets in motion a series of fake lives.
Most annoying thing. The pregnancy thing. I knew she was pregnant but she never got bigger or gave birth. She just waited until the dad came back from America and, as we could tell, hey presto, there’s a toddler!
Despite my moans, it was a good read.
But it was also annoying.
I think I even enjoyed the fact it was annoying, so hats off to Essie Fox for a compelling plot, interesting characters and irritating side issues.