It's a mark of how long this one has been sitting on my bookshelf that I have the hardback edition. I actually wish it was still sitting on there so I could delay the pleasure of reading it a little longer. This is the kind of book where I wanted to drink in every word and description and I heartily recommend it.
The Somnambulist focuses on Phoebe Turner, a seventeen year-old who lives with her religious mother, Maud, and her ex-actress aunt, Cissy. When tragedy strikes she finds herself taking up a job as companion to the wife of businessman Nathaniel Samuels but the relocation to his country estate stirs up secrets and creates further problems.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this novel is the submersion in Victorian society. The descriptions of Wilton's Music Hall are particularly entrancing, as are the vivid descriptions of the docks. In fact, every setting comes alive on the page. That's not to say the characters don't, although I would say that some of the most vivid characters are supporting ones. I particularly like Isaac, the senile old Jew, who we hear of several times. There is something about the description of both him and his shop which is reminiscent of Dickens at his best in Bleak House.
There are many twists and turns in this novel, some of which I anticipated and some of which were complete surprises. Fox utilises both types well, offering the reader involvement in the discovery of the secrets but still managing to surprise them more than once. She also manages to demonstrate her immersion in Victorian society without hitting the reader over the head with the research. What this creates is an atmospheric and surprising novel which stayed with me days after I'd finished it.