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The Somnambulist

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  1,706 Ratings  ·  242 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published May 26th 2011 by Orion Publishing Group
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M Character Mmmmm, barely, maybe, but it is definitely not a ghost story.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane SetterfieldThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafónRebecca by Daphne du MaurierThe Historian by Elizabeth KostovaThe Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Modern Gothic
396 books — 1,118 voters
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TV Book Club 2012
19 books — 26 voters

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Community Reviews

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As a fan of Victorian gothic, I knew I'd want to read The Somnambulist the moment I heard about it. Aside from the great title and gorgeous cover, the plot sounded appealingly twisted and involving in a Sarah Waters kind of way (which, I'm pretty sure, is the effect the author was going for). The protagonist, and the narrator for much of the story, is Phoebe Turner, a seventeen-year-old girl who idolises her glamorous aunt Cissy, a singer and actress. Her mother, Maud, couldn't be more of a cont ...more
May 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 Ha
Nov 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The book revolves around Phoebe Turner, a 17 year old girl living in the London East End in the Victorian era with her bible bashing mother Maud and her 'delightful' Aunt Cissy. The first chapters of the book build a picture of the dysfunctional family dynamic, and love/hate relationship between Phoebe’s mother and aunt. Maud thinks that anything fun or joyful is a sin. She is also a bit of a hypocrite with a penchant for the devils juice. Aunt Cissy is an actress/ singer who is oh so delicate a ...more
Apr 25, 2012 rated it did not like it
I picked this up while traveling so I would have something to read on the train; it sounded intriguing and easy to read, and when the shop girl at the bookstore recommended it, I decided to buy it even though I hadn't heard of it before. I found this book hard to finish. The characters were two-dimensional and mostly annoying, particularly the protagonist, Phoebe, who was naive and helpless to a point that made me despise her. There were 'plot twists' that could be sussed out from the first chap ...more
K.E. Coles
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Having ancestors who were music hall artistes, and who actually played 'Somnambula' in the 1860s, this was a must read for me. The music hall world, with its glamorous veneer hiding a rather shabby reality, was wonderfully realised. Phoebe, the main character, is sweet and naive and straight away I fell in love with her. Her life isn't easy and some elements of the story are quite shocking - one, in particular. I couldn't like the main male character, Nathaniel, and despised his son but, given P ...more
Jul 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Loved it! It took a while to get going but when it did it didn't hold back! A brilliantly woven story of family secrets, betrayal and forbidden love with characters that leapt off the page. I found them completely real and believable as well which can sometimes be hit and miss with a new author trying too hard to impress. Thankfully this isn't the case for Essie Fox in this her first novel and she will definitely be someone to watch out for. Puts me in mind of Sarah Waters or Shirley Jackson for ...more
Deborah Swift
May 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing

I was excited to hear about the Virtual Victorian's new novel The Somnambulist, and when it popped up as a selection for Amazon Vine I could not resist.

And what a gem it is. Bravo to Essie Fox, it is a long time since I have enjoyed a debut novel so much. It is literate, engaging and atmospheric. What's more, it has a plot that kept me turning the pages, and just when I thought I had discovered all the secrets of the book, there was one more twist in the tale.

Phoebe's journey to uncover her past
Jun 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
I waited 48 hours after finishing this book to write this because I wanted to be sure that I would not change my mind, and I didn't. I don't normally review books that I do not care for because it just seems a not very nice thing to do. After all, someone put a lot of time and effort in to create something I assume they are proud to present for my enjoyment. Really and truly though, I thought this was just awful. I have read some of the other glowing reviews and am beginning to wonder if maybe I ...more
Lorraine RushHourReads
I absolutely hated this book. The dialogue is plodding, the storyline flows badly and the characterisation is terrible. I struggled to understand the responses of the characters to events around them. The lead charachter, Phoebe, is an annoying, passive girl who seems completely oblivious to the obvious twist and seems bizarrely unaffected by all the terrible things that seem to regularly happen to her. It's just...annoying! I'm afraid that once the storyline became too soap opera, I realised I ...more
Sue Uden
Aug 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It is a little while since I finished it, but I loved everything about The Somnambulist. As the elaborately attractive design on the cover suggests, it gives an intricate insight into life in the East End of Victorian London. And there I met Phoebe Turner and her controlling, Hallelujah Army flag waving mother, Maud, and her ever fun-loving actress sister, Phoebe's Aunt Cissy. I can remember having to ignore a lot of the other mundane stuff going on around me, as each new mystery unfolded and un ...more
Feb 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
Don't bother. It only gets worse.
Jan 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
All families have hidden secrets among its confidants with outsiders being completely unaware. Victorian England was no exception with many skeletons lurking in family closets. Essie Fox explores this theme in, “The Somnambulist”.

“The Somnambulist” follows Phoebe Turner, a seventeen-year-old girl who lives with her mother, Maud , and stage actress aunt, Cissy. Cissy is intertwined with a gentleman Nathanial whom after Cissy’s sudden death; takes in Phoebe as a companion to his wife (who suffers
Jan 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
La sonnambula di Essie Fox è uno dei romanzi pubblicati nel 2011 che più mi ha incuriosito, attratto e, una volta letto, stregato.

Le motivazioni che mi hanno spinto verso questo libro sono molteplici: innanzitutto l’ambientazione scelta dall’autrice per la sua storia, l’Inghilterra vittoriana e l’ambiente dei music hall hanno un fascino misterioso e sempre unico; altro aspetto attraente è la presenza, già dal titolo, del dipinto di Millais raffigurante la ormai celebre sonnambula durante le sue
Even though I really disliked Elijah's Mermaid, mainly due to the utter ridiculousness of its plot, I was still amenable to trying The Somnambulist. It's Essie Fox's first novel and I've had the sample sitting on my Kindle since the book was first published; it's only because I came across it in the library that I've now read it.

It is not good. The best I can say is that it's not actively terrible apart from one particular aspect, of which more later. It certainly manages to avoid EM's error of
Essie Fox is a cruel and evil woman. Honestly, her debut novel is so stunning she deprived me of sleep last night. I must have told myself ‘just one more chapter’ at least ten times, to absolutely no avail. It was possibly almost *cough* 4 am by the time I was finally able to put this book down. And I was so hooked that I woke up this morning, made myself a drink and dove straight back in. So I retract my earlier comment, Fox isn’t cruel and evil she is actually incredibly talented.

The story fo
In Phoebe Turner’s Victorian home hangs a painting. The Somnambulist. It reminds her of her dear Aunt Cissy, a music hall beauty who she wishes were her mother. Instead, Maud is a strict Christian, pounding the streets with the Hallelujah Army and severely disapproving of Cissy’s sinful life as a singer. When Phoebe glimpses the world inside Wilton’s Music Hall one night, she also draws the attention of men who will change her life forever. Soon her family home is at risk and she must move to th ...more
Libby Stephenson
Jul 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-gothic, 2015
This book, tho'. It reformed all my notions of modern gothic fiction, so painstaking constructed by Kate Morton and Diane Setterfield. I never would have expected things to get this dark and horrible. This is the social commentary of Daniel Deronda with the unrelenting wretchedness of Wuthering Heights. Now, I use the words "horrible" and "wretched" not because this is a bad book, but because you will have to witness utter betrayal, degradation, and loss.

I think that the real difference between
Apr 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: borrowed
Ooh, ooh, I really want Ms Fox's marketing team. That way I'd become Supernurse Extraordinaire: celebrities would discuss me on television, my research papers would get little Specsavers-sponsored stickers on the front and get their own wee display in the library, and people would flock to my blog on catheterisation (um, OK, maybe not the last one). Ahh, the life I would lead...

Because really, when it boils down to it, this isn't a very good book. Meticulously researched, certainly, but the exec
Dec 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, abandoned, gothic
I stopped reading this about a quarter of the way through. I suspect the problem I had was that I imagine books in a very different way to the author. I think this is the case because I became aware of very precise visual descriptions when I was reading the book. In fact, they began to annoy me a bit. This makes me suspect that Essie Fox imagines books mainly visually and so was giving lots of visual cues to help her readers experience the story. However, I mainly imagine what it would feel like ...more
Kate Forsyth
May 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Somnambulist is a dark neo-Victorian Gothic romance, with lots of unexpected twists and turns. The 19th century atmosphere is so vividly realised, you can hear the horses’ hooves clopping and taste the fog on your tongue.

Phoebe Turner lives with her Bible-thumping mother and her young and beautiful aunt, who used to be a singer. A chance encounter at a music-hall changes Phoebe’s life forever, catapulting her into a world of dark secrets. She travels to Dinwood Court to work as a companion
Karen Mace
I'm always intrigued to read Victorian/Gothic novels and with a beautiful cover this book lured me in for an enjoyable read.

It wasn't fast paced, and I did feel it was a little manic in places with too many threads going on which confused me at times - that could just be me! - but overall it was an interesting look behind closed doors at those family secrets that are always lurking and always reveal themselves to the despair of those trying to escape them.

Reviewed on my blog - Books by Proxy

4.5 Stars

I first discovered the work of Essie Fox through her blog, The Virtual Victorian. I had been writing my dissertation and had been musing on Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet, a Victorian fragrance inspired by Turkish Baths, when a random search took me into Fox’s world of Victoriana. After reading through countless posts I discovered that Essie Fox had also become a published author of fiction. I knew that if I saw The Somnambulist I would buy it; Fox’s blo
Stick with it - the final third is great!
Feb 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
'Every heart holds a secret'
'Some secrets are better left buried...'
- front & back cover tag lines.

In principle the synopsis for this novel does sound very much the epitome of Victorian Gothic: an innocent girl arrives at a secluded stately home staffed with unwelcoming servants, there is a neurotic mistress of the house still mourning an untimely death, a dash of spiritualism, a ghostly presence, dark and menacing woods and lots of secrets. Yet somehow these ingredients just didn't add up
Mary Aris
Feb 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Mary by: The TV Book Club
In her debut novel, The Somnambulist, author Essie Fox writes a gothic tale about seventeen year-old Phoebe Turner living with a puritanical mother, Maude, whose prude ideas and values motivates her to go about East London engaging in activism, vowing to shut down theatres. Phoebe’s Aunt Cissy, on the other hand, is the complete opposite of Phoebe’s mother - an actress and singer performing at Wilton’s Musical Hall. Aunt Cissy takes Phoebe to Wilton’s Musical Hall often and introduces her to man ...more
Ant Harrison
Feb 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
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; convo
May 22, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

Our 'heroine' Phoebe is raped by her brother (they don't know they're siblings) in the woods and a few hours later in the middle of the night, she sees him creeping out into the woods again and so she follows him because she had a ~feeling he wanted her to follow him. Then they have a heart to heart talk about his dead sister. She (allegedly) passes out and he carries her back to the house and she hopes the entire time she's in his arms that he'll kiss her or show her affection
Jan 27, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-reread, 2013, uk
Rivisitazione del romanzo gotico, La sonnambula racconta la storia, pieno di melodramma e colpi di scena, di Phoebe Turner, una ragazzina che vive nell'East End londinese (periodo vittoriano, ovviamente) con la madre e la zia Cissy, sorelle amorevoli nonostante l'enorme differenza tra i loro caratteri e la loro scelta di vita: la madre di Phoebe è una donna profondamente religiosa, molto severa e anche abbastanza bigotta, mentre Cissy è una cantante di varietà ed esercita chiaramente un grande f ...more
D.E. Meredith
Feb 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
OK. I'll fess up. I know Essie so that makes it hard to review but I will say in all honesty, I LOVED this book. The characters leapt off the page and it has a wonderful dynamic verve about it. I raced through this novel in just a few days and some of the most powerful scenes - I'm not giving anything away in what is a deftly handled, complex plot - will stay with me a long long time. Shocking family revelations. Dark and light. Sequins on alabaster skin. Nom Nom descriptive writing, here. Lots ...more
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Leitura Conjunta - Agosto 2015 2 4 Aug 17, 2015 02:48AM  
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My latest novel, The Last Days of Leda Grey is about an Edwardian silent film actress who has lived in a crumbling cliff top house for more than half a century, until she confides her story to the journalist, Ed Peters ... who rapidly finds himself immersed inside her dark and eerie world.

I've also written three Victorian novels, the first of which - The Somnambulist - was shortlisted for the UK
More about Essie Fox...

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