Oh, hai! I read books, then I write down what I think of them.
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.