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text 2017-01-10 23:01
The Somnambulist has had a hard time holding my attention until now, . . .

. . . But suddenly I want to quote everything I read.


(Not putting the book up this time, since it's only a green box anyway.)


"Sleep did not come so easily in Newgate.. Barabbas stank and he knew it. Matters have come to a terrible pass when the stench and toxicity of one's own perspiration are enough to make one nauseous. "

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text 2017-01-10 22:16
And the thing that happens immediately after this? Color me Intrigued.
The Somnambulist - Jonathan Barnes

"Ignoring a legion of forbidding notices and signs and heaving themselves over innumerable gates and fences, they eventually clambered down beside the river. Moon wrinkled his nose at the omnipresent smell of decay, treading as carefully as he could along the bank as the filth and muck of the Thames oozed over his shoes.

'Mud,'Cribb said, sounding just as he had on London Bridge . . . 'Glorious mud -- . . .

'We've passed through the city's bowels.  Now we walk the span of her intestine.'

'Charming metaphor.'

'A century from now all this will be torn down, this testament to industry, toil and sweat.  In its place great temples are built, monuments to wealth, avarice and power.'"


Page 137 of 353


(The clue for me, to remember what this is about:  giant ugly head just unearthed from strata so deep that London hadn't even existed. )


and then . . . 


Moon returns to his hotel, where he runs into an old acquaintance.


"'What are you doing here?'

'I've tracked you down,' Speight said proudly.

Moon blinked, still not entirely certain that this exchange was really happening.  'What can I do for you?'

'To be honest . . .money. . . I've had nowhere to doss down.  Things are difficult.  You were always so kind to me --'

Moon cut him off, reached into his pocket and passed the man a pound note.  'Here, spend it wisely.'

'Actually,' Speight admitted, 'I'll only spend it on drink.'

Moon pushed past him and clambered up the steps to his hotel.  'Frankly, Mr. Speight, just at the moment, I'd happily join you.'

'Something the matter?'   Speight seemed genuinely concerned.

'Have you ever had everything you ever believed in ruined in a few hours?'

'Can't say I have, sir, no.'

'Have you ever seen all logic and reason dissolve before your eyes?'

'Again, sir -- I'd have to say no.'

'Have you ever been thrust into the most acute existential crisis by the sheer impossibility of the truth?'

The beggar gave Moon an embarrassed look.  'P'raps you'd better have a lie-down, sir.  Thanks again for the cash.'

With a heavy sigh, the conjuror stepped inside."


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text 2017-01-10 21:58
The Somnambulist - Jonathan Barnes

Book quote from: The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes


"'He's not an evil man.  He acts from what he believes to be honourable motives.'

The corners of Moon's mouth turned themselves up into a sneer.  'Monsters always do.'

'He's not a monster."

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review 2014-06-24 10:09
Not even melodramatic enough to be fun - The Somnambulist by Essie Fox
The Somnambulist - Essie Fox

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 having a demented plot in which the characters decide the best way to achieve their end goal is via the most illogical route available. Instead, The Somnambulist is dull, predictable, and initially kind of derivative.


To begin we are in the land of Hetero Sarah Waters, in dark and grubby Victorian London where only loose women perform on a stage and the aftershow parties are stuffed to the hilt with cads and bounders eager to ply unsuspecting innocents with liquor before kissing their bloodstained hands. Only it's nowhere near as exciting as I make it sound.


Then we're in Jane Eyre, to the big country house, the kind with hair full of secrets. Our heroine, Phoebe, wanders around the house not doing much. The Lady of the house, to whom Phoebe is ostensibly a companion, is very close to her butler, Stephens. She has a dead daughter and secrets of her own. Phoebe moons about thinking about the family she has left behind. Occasionally she breaks the monotony with some light gazing upon her scarred finger, a result of the previous paragraph. 


Phoebe is uninteresting, repetitive and passive. The most she does is huff out in a strop from time to time. Her interactions with the male characters in particular are leaden, the "romance" having little emotional lead in and a resolution worthy of the schlokiest of Mills and Boon novels. 


Much of this book doesn't make any sense. Fox does her utmost to tie everything together with many repetitive "But WHY did you ..." "Ah! You didn't know that ..." scenes, but despite the never-ending reveals and guilty secrets, when you actually sit down and look at it with a cold and logical eye there are still questions unanswered, the biggest one surrounding Cissy and her motives. It's not quite as ridiculous as EM, but it's not any better put together.


So, my biggest issue with this book. It has a rape scene, which is fine because rape happens. However, it's almost as though it was consensual in an earlier draft and got changed at the last minute. The way the other character is regarded by Phoebe, and the way she talks about it - it's all about what "they" did as though she were an active participant. It annoyed me; more than that it offended me. If the scene had been consensual, it wouldn't have made much difference to the book - a few language changes in the immediate aftermath - and that really, really pisses me off. 


I want to like these books so much. I really do. Although I'm not one for melodrama, I am one for the Victorians, but for me Essie Fox is a "2nd generation" Pre-Raphaelite on a tin of biscuits, whereas I'm hoping for a British Symbolist in all their raw and emotional glory. 1 star.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2013-11-05 17:55
The Somnambulist - Essie Fox
The Somnambulist - Essie Fox

This is a fairly Gothic book, about a seventeen-year-old, Phoebe Turner (whose father's name is William Turner. Spot the reference.), who goes to work as a lady's companion to the wife of the enigmatic Nathaniel Samuels, discovering some fairly unpleasant truths about her own family en route. The first half of the book feels very much like Jane Eyre : the mysterious master of the house, the unfriendly servants, the madwoman. Then, mercifully, it turns out that The Somnambulist is not going to be a rerun of Jane Eyre. It is, in fact, even more Gothicly unpleasant than that. Incest. Rape. Murder. You name it, it's in there. And the Salvation Army gets it pretty bad, too. For some reason, Essie Fox thinks it's all right to amend this by writing in the notes, "I sincerely hope that my fictional representations cause no offence to current Church members, for as Phoebe Turner says in the novel, "The Hallelujahs [the fictional equivalent of the Salvation Army] do a great deal of good.""

That's all right, then. An entire novel of portraying the Salvation Army as nutters and prudes can be amended by a single sentence at the back.

And time in the novel is really annoying. Fox misses whole episodes out, and then goes back to explain them, which means it's quite hard to sort out where you are in the storyline. There doesn't seem to be a good reason for this, and it happens quite a lot. And the occasional third-person chapters scattered through the mainly first-person narrative completely destroys the illusion of the diary.

Oh, and Fox springs a little surprise on us at the end:

"I tried to imagine what they must see: a window with the sash half raised; light dazzling white against dark panes; a young woman who held a child in her arms."

What? Where did the child come from? It's alluded to, very briefly, a few chapters earlier; and then nothing until it's about two. Why do we hear nothing of its birth, the way its family loved it, its first years? Why the gap? It shouldn't be there, and it smacks of bad storytelling, just randomly throwing something in at the end of the novel to make it more interesting.

The good thing about this book, though, was the Victorian detail: the sights and smells of the East End, the characters and glamour of the theatre. That's basically why I've given it three stars. It is well researched, and the detail is exquisite. It doesn't make up for shoddy storytelling, though.

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