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Book Review: "Insomnia" by Sarah Pinborough

2/5 - great story, good themes, terrible characters...

By Annie KapurPublished about a month ago 3 min read
From: Amazon

I have started buying used books and honestly, it's quite interesting what you find in them. Some years' ago, I bought some used orange penguin books from eBay and in one of them I found dried blood, but in another I found the sketches for what looked like a wedding dress. They were very nice illustrations as well. I don't know why people do that to books but the fade and the style of the dress meant that these drawings were probably done before I was even born. When we look at used books, we cannot have a custom quality check but we are looking for a greener and cheaper way to shop for books. Even if there is dried blood inside, if it is cut down from *£15 ($19.08) all the way down to *£2.50 ($3.18), we would much rather buy the used copy if we are tight for cash but still want to read the book.

Insomnia is a book about a woman named Emma and her paranoid rants basically. She lives with her subpar husband and her children who both have a certain personality in which the infant is a lot more likeable than the teenager - yet the teenager is more understandable. Emma's life may seem all sunshine and rainbows, but it is not. As with many thrillers, we have a secrecy beneath the surface of what seems like a perfected life. A large house, lots of money and a family of two children, Emma does not actually live her life every day in happiness though - she also isn't too grateful for what she has either, making her a thoroughly unlikeable character.

She has an older sister named Phoebe who turns up at her little sister's house and has also once already visited her in a parking lot to tell her that their mother is dying in hospital. To patch things up, Phoebe says that Emma should visit their mother and tie up the loose ends but Emma dismisses this as a terrible idea as she describes their mother as 'mad'. From the beginnings of the story we can infer that this madness and lack of sleep led to the girls being taken away from their mother and placed in foster homes. However, when in the foster homes, Emma fared much better than her sister Phoebe who was not so lucky as to have a good relationship with her foster family. This only makes how ungrateful Emma is seem even more disgusting to be honest.

From: Amazon

But, as Emma declines to see her mother and pushes her sister further away from her life, she starts to stay up later at night and denying that maybe this possibly inherited mental illness in her family might be plaguing her as well. Apart from this, there is a secret about a night she keeps revisiting in order to make sense of it. All in the days leading up to her 40th birthday, she turns her mind inside out in order to understand whether it was at this age that her mother stopped sleeping and, what this all meant in the long run.

I think my only issue with this book is that none of the characters were likeable in any way except for the children: five-year-old Paddington-obsessed Will and seventeen-year-old hyper-feminist Chloe. Emma is ungrateful, her husband Robert is useless, her acquaintances all seem to be stock characters and extras from The Devil Wears Prada and the other school mums are all 'lesser than' Emma in the social ladder because 'they're mums and that's it'. I think this was done on purpose by the author but when you start off the book with such low sympathy for all of the central characters, it makes it difficult to reason to carry on with it and this is something of a fault in a lot of modern thrillers that play by this 'rich female' protagonist rulebook.

From: Rare Birds Book Club

All in all, though there are great themes and some parts of the storyline are very twisted, I can say that the let down is the absolute ineptitude of many of the characters involved. It is a very good book in theory and the plot sounds great but the character writing really gives the reader a headache. If we have nobody to latch on to, then how do we connect with the wider world of the novel in which the protagonist exists? Especially given the fact that this is a character-centric novel.

Note: though the build to a climax was great, the ending practically ruined it for me. It seemed like a real cop-out.

*all example conversion rates from GBP to USD are correct for the date of 29th May, 2024


About the Creator

Annie Kapur

200K+ Reads on Vocal.

Secondary English Teacher & Lecturer

🎓Literature & Writing (B.A)

🎓Film & Writing (M.A)

🎓Secondary English Education (PgDipEd) (QTS)

📍Birmingham, UK

X: @AnnieWithBooks

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Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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    Annie KapurWritten by Annie Kapur

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