After reading Elijah's Mermaid, I knew I had to read more of Essie Fox's work so while I was in London visiting friends, I purchased The Somnambulist from the Waterstones near Charring Cross, (one of my favourites) and eagerly waited until I was on the train back to Aberystwyth, so that I could have five hours reading with only one minor interruption.
The story of The Somnambulist follows Phoebe Turner, a young girl who lives with her Aunt Cissy, and her mother Maud.
At the beginning of the book we see that Phoebe's mother, in a way, represses her, and her personality. Brought up to not disobey her mother in any way Phoebe spent most of her childhood marching in the Hallelujah Army, a group of people who strolled through the underbelly of London to spread the word of god. She had been brought up to be wary the world of the theatre, one that her Aunt Cissy had loved and been apart of for many years. The admiration of her Aunt caused Phoebe to long to look beyond the footlights, just so she could know what her Aunt loved so much about the world her mother disapproved of.
Throughout the book, Phoebe grows as a person as she is given choices, whether to obey her mother and the way of life she was brought up to lead. Or to follow her heart and take part in daring actions that could change the rest of her life. By the end, we can notice the change not only in her but in ourselves, the readers of her life. We want her to know that her life is secret, after secret, after secret, and we want her to realize all of this so that she can become the person she is meant to be.
In a thrilling roller coaster of emotion, confusion and loss we follow Phoebe through the times in her life where she was in desperate need of maternal guidance and yet she found limited amount in the most unlikely way. With twists and turns that will keep you reading all through the night.
It's the classic coming of age novel set in one of our most historical eras, hitting hard on the social and political problems that make us realize how much we have evolved as human beings. All of Fox's novels truly get to grips with the dark and the light of the Victorian age, making the reader wish they could dive right into the pages with the characters she brings to life.
I know I will be going back to Essie Fox's work again and again. Two down, two to go.