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.
And in the meantime I will be following her wonderful blog, The Virtual Victorian …