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Analyzing The Character Of Caroline In Sarah Pinborough’s Latest Read ‘Insomnia’

Sarah Pinborough’s latest novel, “Insomnia,” has characters and concepts that are bound to make you wonder about them long after you have finished reading the book. It is wrought with anticipation and anxiety, and some bits and parts are bound to give you chills down your spine. Though it’s a thriller, and thrillers are mostly about the setting, the plot twists, and about whodunit kind of a thing, this book is more than that. Like I said before, the characters that the author presents to us and the concepts that she deals with are bound to make us question some of the most fundamental concepts, like time, for example, how it works and whether all of us perceive it in the same manner or certain circumstances are bound to make us perceive it differently. But here, we would be looking at the character of Caroline, the antagonist in this novel, but for that, we need to look at the plot first in brief.

Spoilers Ahead

‘Insomnia’ Plot Summary

Emma Bournett Averell is 10 days away from turning 40, and she has always dreaded the big 4-0 because of what happened to her mother, Patricia Bournett. She had tried to kill Emma’s older sister Phoebe by trying to smother her with a pillow. Emma was five, and both the siblings since that day have been scarred for life. She’s doing all those weird little things which her mother used to do before the “big day,” and she’s scared that she will end up hurting her family too. As things start taking a turn for the worse, she finds a woman named Caroline (professionally a nurse) to talk to about the things that have been happening. She rants about the situations, about her suspicions regarding Phoebe sabotaging things for her and making her the bad person in front of her family, about how the police suspect her of killing her mother, and all other nitty gritty of her personal life. Little did she know that by doing so, she was digging her own grave because it was Caroline who intended to mess up her perfect life.

Analyzing The Character Of Caroline In ‘Insomnia’

Emma later finds out that it is Caroline’s parents who wanted to adopt her after the tragic incident. They couldn’t because the day that they were coming to get her, they met a horrific car accident that killed the father and left the mother paralyzed for the rest of her life. Caroline never wanted her parents to adopt another child. She was jealous of the fact that all those things she enjoyed solely, she would have to share now with a stranger, be it love and attention or the presents and other things. But it isn’t unnatural for children to behave like this. In fact, in several cases, children do not take well the news of a younger child coming into the family, be it from natural birth or adoption. The child might feel that this new baby is trying to take their parents away from them and perceive them as a potential threat. The jealousy is very natural and gradually fades but in cases where it doesn’t fade, tension might still exist, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the older child would want to harm the younger one, let alone in a life-threatening manner. So the fear that Emma feels later about what would have happened had she landed up in Caroline’s home might not have come true. Caroline might have tried to fight her or create situations where Emma would appear to be the ‘bad child’ in front of her parents and Caroline, the ‘good child’. That kind of experience would have been traumatic for Emma and she surely doesn’t deserve it, but making assumptions about Caroline like Emma does,  isn’t fair too. Caroline became a killer because of the things that she had to go through. No one is born a criminal. People turn into one because of several factors which make a strong impact on them. It is hard to even imagine that a child had to watch her father’s mutilated corpse and listen to her mother groaning in pain until they received help. It must have been traumatic for her, and we cannot expect a child to remain the same. She grew up with a lot more responsibilities than she was supposed to. She had to deal with things that she didn’t deserve to deal with. Often, when we are angry due to misfortunes that have occurred in our lives, we look for people whom we can blame for them even when we know that there is actually no one to blame. Blaming people, in that case, makes it easier for us to deal with those situations. Caroline blamed Emma for it—a stranger whom she had never laid eyes on but had hated ever since her name was taken in her house. At first, she tried to take her parents away from her, and then one of them got killed because of her. She perceived the incident in a manner a jealous child would perceive it, and that perception remained with her. She grew up to be a nurse, working to take care of senior citizens because that job was practically a sensible choice. She had taken care of her mother all her life, so she would definitely make a good nurse. However, that wasn’t the case. She had killed several senior citizens when she was hired to take care of them. It sounds terrible, and these tell a lot about her. The situation she was in, maybe she didn’t want some other people to suffer the same. Maybe she believed that instead of suffering, one should just die because that would give relief to those who are suffering as well as those who are close to them and are responsible for taking care of them. She also talked about being in prison or in some psychiatric institution because then she wouldn’t have to worry about the money, the expenses, etc. So, the perception that Emma has of Caroline is rather from a privileged person’s perspective who has managed to get all the things that they have wanted in their life by working hard for them. That might not be the case for others. Caroline has had to deal with situations that Emma won’t be able to comprehend, and she, in turn, has a kind of trauma to deal with, that Caroline won’t be able to understand.

The rage that Caroline harbored within her for Emma, her father (who wanted to bring Emma home), her mother, and also for her life and how it turned out kept it within herself. She contained it until she could contain it no longer, and like lava, it erupted out from inside her. That point was when she heard Emma’s name in the hospital. In fact, she wouldn’t have been so hurtful and taken revenge in a manner like this had Emma not talked about all the details of her life, her fears, her anxieties, what her mother had done, etc. She gave all the details that Caroline could possibly need to mess up her life. To Caroline, Emma appeared as a person who is extremely narcissistic and is only concerned about herself. She doesn’t care about her husband, her daughter, her son, or her sister but only herself. So she decided that she needs to take revenge and teach Emma a lesson. Make her understand that not everything is about her and that the world doesn’t revolve around her. That’s how it was when Caroline initially wanted to take revenge. Things get complicated when Caroline decides to kill Emma’s mother and her family to make her fears come true. Emma had known all along that someone wanted to hurt her family, that someone was coming to get them. She shared these fears and what her mother had done to them with Caroline and handed out the perfect readymade plan to her. The plan which actually made Patricia lose her mind, the plan which stole Emma’s sleep and the plan which Will kept dreaming about and drawing in his sketchbook. The situation is inexplicable, as Nina later explained to Emma; what caused it and who started it cannot be tracked. It’s like the ‘ouroboros.’

See more: ‘Insomnia’ Ending, Explained: The Weird Time Glitch And The Symbol Of The Ouroboros

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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