‘Insomnia’ Book Review: A Fast-Paced Thriller Novel By Sarah Pinborough

Are you looking for a fast-paced thriller this weekend but cannot seem to decide which should be “the one”? Fear not, for we are here with a review of another splendid mystery thriller that is definitely worth your time and money. Sarah Pinborough, the writer of the famous “Behind Her Eyes,” is back with another thriller that is bound to blow you away. Once you start reading it, there is no turning back; you won’t be able to put it down unless you have finished it. Let’s jump right away into the details which make it so brilliant a thriller. 

“Insomnia,” the 342-page book, is published by Harper Collins and deals with a woman named Emma Bournett Averell, who is a divorce lawyer. She is quite reputed and has even made it to the newspapers for her wins in hotshot cases. She is 39 and is competing to be a partner in the firm she works for, has her own house, a husband, and two beautiful children. She has everything that anyone could have hoped for in life. But beneath this beautiful life of a hardworking established woman lurks a dreadful trauma from her childhood days, which surfaces as soon as Emma’s sister Phoebe makes an appearance in the narrative. Phoebe is Emma’s older sister. She has returned quite a while back without letting Emma know, which in turn enrages her. Are the two sisters close, then? Well, no. They used to be until the “incident” happened, and the “incident” is talked about and referred to by Emma in various portions but is never quite revealed entirely until one has reached the middle of the book. Emma stayed with Phoebe in a flat rented by them for only a while when Emma was at the university. It was then that Emma met Robert (her husband), and both fell in love with each other in spite of the fact that Robert was actually dating Phoebe. Emma mentions that they were casually dating each other, but we don’t know for sure. Later, Emma again mentions that there was also a time after that when Robert and Phoebe had come close to each other; Emma was busy with her studies then and spent a lot of time in the company of her classmate Darcy. It was when Emma found out that she was pregnant with Chloe (Robert and her first child) that they decided to get married and settle down, after which the two sisters drifted apart again, talking to each other only when the older returned to the country. This time when Phoebe returns, she goes to Hartwell Care Unit to meet her old, dying mother without letting Emma know that she is meeting her. She drops a casual text telling her to come to meet her at the hospital, and when Emma does, she tells her that she wants her to meet their dying mother, which makes Emma furious enough to leave without speaking a word more.

The book begins with a car crash, in which a driver rams his car into another and then flees, knowing that a family is trapped inside. It is followed by a brief description of Emma’s workplace and her life, narrated by her own self, with her thoughts turning back often to her fatigue and her lack of a proper night’s rest. But we all, at times, experience difficulty in falling asleep, so why is she getting bothered by a thing which is so little? There is also one other thing that bothers her: her 40th birthday, which is only ten days away. She has always been scared of turning 40. Her elder sister Phoebe had been equally scared when she was turning 40. She was so scared that she quit her job and went away on a cooking retreat in some part of Eastern Europe. Emma’s eldest daughter, Chloe, an ardent feminist, makes fun of Emma’s fear, telling her that she should be proud of turning 40, knowing very little of the actual reason for her mother’s fear.

It turns out that Emma’s mother, Patricia Bournett, had started losing her mind a week before her 40th birthday and on the very day had done something terrible to her two children, for which both Phoebe and Emma were taken away by social workers and Patricia was sent to a psychiatric unit for criminals. Both sisters grew up with different foster families having different experiences, but both couldn’t heal from the trauma. They ended up being afraid of the age, thinking probably turning 40 would mess with their heads as well. 

Emma, being the protagonist and sole narrator, describes the events as when they happen. The chapters are arranged according to the number of days that are left before her 40th birthday. Most focus on her nighttime routine that she strangely develops right before her birthday, like repeatedly checking the locks on her doors, looking out of the window, muttering the same numbers that her mother used to mutter, and checking on her children constantly. But why does she do it? And does the rest of her family know? Well, they don’t know at first, but they do come to know that something is not right with Emma from little Will’s drawings. Will is Emma and Robert’s youngest child, and he goes after Emma in the sense that he looks like her and also behaves like her. Will sketches a woman with her hair hanging all over her face trying to smother him with a pillow with the words “Mummy” and “Mummy” sprawled all over the page. Emma and Robert get called from Will’s school, the principal demanding explanation. Robert naturally ends up thinking that Emma probably does do it, unconsciously, though, scaring Will and making him, in turn, sketch those horrid pictures. Emma, on the other hand, is so sure that she doesn’t hurt her child or do anything which would cause him to sketch those. Meanwhile, the situation becomes even worse when the police come for Emma, claiming that she has murdered her own mother leaving Robert and Chloe in shock because none knew that Emma’s mother was still living. 

So, what happens in the end? Does Emma go insane like her mother, killing her little child in the end, or does she stop herself somehow? Also, what is it that happened when both Phoebe and Emma were little? What did Patricia actually do? To know more, get yourself a copy of “Insomnia” and be prepared for one long night.


See more: ‘Friends, Lovers, And The Big Terrible Thing’ Book Review – Reading Matthew Perry’s Memoir Is Not Easy Or Light


Anantaa Ghosh
Anantaa Ghosh
Anantaa has completed her graduation and post-graduation in English literature. She works as a guest lecturer and is an avid and enthusiastic reader. She is deeply passionate about rivers and wants to pursue her research on water narratives.

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