INSOMNIA – A Novel by Sarah Pinborough

Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean Someone Isn’t Out to Get You

Cover of Novel – Woman in Nightgown

The Plot:

In bestselling author Sarah Pinborough’s newest thriller, INSOMNIA, maybe Emma is going mad, but she’s convinced someone is still planning her destruction.

Divorce attorney Emma Averell has a wonderful life: Her husband Rob is a stay-at home dad to their five-year-old son Will and seventeen-year-old daughter Chloe. Except for Chloe’s teen angst, they are a happy and settled family. But Emma had to work hard to get there.

When she was five, she witnessed a murderous incident involving her mother and older sister, Phoebe, and both girls went into foster care. Emma hasn’t seen her mother since that terrible night her mother went insane on the day she turned 40. Emma still has nightmares about it.

Now, 12 days before her own 40th birthday, Emma experiences things she can’t explain, and strangely, her sister Phoebe comes to visit even though she’s been MIA in Spain for years.

Then odd things happen to Emma—she dictates letters for work that turn out to be just numbers gibberish (the same numbers her mother recited over and over before her psychotic break), and roaming the house while she suffers from insomnia—which make her believe she might be going insane like her mother. After all, Emma’s mother had always called her “the mad child.” She had the “bad blood that ran in the family.”

As Emma’s insomnia worsens and she (and her family) question her sanity, she thinks that maybe she is going mad, but she’s convinced someone is still out to get her. She’s also certain that what she’s experiencing is some kind of warning that her family is in danger.

As the countdown to Emma’s 40th birthday winds down, “the future, past, and present collide,” and she must figure out what is real and what is a plot against her sanity.

The Vibe:

Written in Emma’s first-person narrative beginning twelve days before her birthday, winding down to the day itself, readers learn how the strange things happening to her are reminiscent of what happened to her mother 35 years before. 

The Art of Storytelling:

Pinborough creates a visceral fear of experiencing the devastating effects of insomnia and the unraveling of a person’s sanity. Because mental illness is sometimes inherited, Emma’s impending 40th birthday milestone creates a terrifying dread that readers feel right along with Emma.

The narrative is not just riveting in its plot, but Pinborough explores the issues of lasting damage from trauma at an early age, the complicated relationships between mother and daughter, and the effects of aging on women.  

The author was inspired by “the struggles of working women in all situations, trying to balance families, guilt, men, etc., and just how tiring it is, and yet kills our sleep.”

The Author:

Pinborough is a prolific bestselling author who’s written over 25 novels. Her psychological thriller Behind Her Eyes was made into a Netflix series, her dystopian romance The Death House will be made into a movie, Cross Her Heart is scheduled for UK Television, and 13 Minutes is also in development with Netflix.

What I Liked Best:

I loved that Emma is an unreliable narrator who can’t trust herself. This is one of the worst fears a person can have—the terror that maybe you’re not thinking clearly and might be suffering from mental illness.


Fans of psychological thrillers, especially those that delve into women’s issues, and stories with unreliable narrators will love this deep dive into the fear of losing one’s self to inner demons.