Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"Be warned."

Attention all fans of sensationalist Victorian fiction! If you haven't read The Somnambulist, you are missing out! Jonathan Barnes is a very talented author who has produced a great addition to this genre of fiction.

I knew from the first sentences of this book that I was in for a unique and fun read.
Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and wilfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you'll believe a word of it.
Yet I cannot be held wholly accountable for its failings. I have good reason for presenting you with so sensational and unlikely an account.
It is all true.

The narrator of this tale is as amusing and enigmatic as he is self-effacing. He tells us the tale of one Edward Moon, a magician and detective, and his assistant, The Somnambulist, who can be run through with swords yet does not bleed. We never learn why The Somnambulist is called this and the narrator doesn't seem to care. This is just one of many "implausible" things that we are expected to accept in this bizarre tale. Moon is bored and so agrees to join a murder investigation after he is approached by Inspector Merryweather of Scotland Yard. Strangely, he is propositioned at the same time by a secret government agency, The Directorate, and is asked to figure out the origins of a mysterious plot against all of London. It turns out that the murder is the tip of the iceberg in a wholly bizarre scheme to bring down the city.

This book succeeds because of the light way in which it was written. It's true that most of it is strange and unbelievable but it doesn't attempt to be serious and dark. It was written as entertainment and it is, in fact, highly entertaining. It's one of those books that you start casting for the movie in your head while you are reading it.

This was another read for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. It had murder, circus freaks, supernatural thugs and a reanimated corpse. In short, it was a perfect perilous read. I think I received this book last Christmas and I'm annoyed that I didn't pick it up earlier. I could have enjoyed it months ago and been ready to read Barnes' new book, The Domino Men -- another tale featuring The Directorate. Now that one is on my wishlist and I'm sure I will read it as soon as I get it.

Moving on to new terrors,

Support our site and buy The Somnambulist on Amazon or find it at your local library.


  1. Oh wow, I'm adding this to my wishlist right now xD It sounds awesome.

  2. Love love love that opening paragraph! That sounds like my type of book -- even though I probably would have skipped over it had I not read your review.

  3. While there were a lot of things I liked about this book, ultimately it left me kind of cold. I wanted something more from it, but I'm not sure what. I'm glad you enjoyed it, though, & it does have a most excellent first paragraph!

  4. When done well, not much can beat Victorian sensationalist fiction. One of my favorite books from last year was The Meaning of Night. This sounds like it could be just as good.

  5. RayRay - It's a fun book!

    Jenners - That's the great thing about this community, right? :)

    Caitlin - I felt like this book delivered all that it promised to. I would have liked to have more background information on the characters but in the way it was narrated and by whom, it wasn't possible.

    Teresa - I didn't think this was as good a book as The Meaning of Night just because I thought that one was more serious about everything that happened and was well-written and well-formed as such with deeper characters and settings. This one is well-written but as a lighter sensational fare and it delivers that. I guess it is hard to compare the two because they feel so different.

  6. This one's been on my mental list for a long time and your description of it sounds like something I need to move up. Although very different there are parts of your review that remind me of The Manual of Detection which I read (and need to review) earlier this summer.

  7. Carl - I just picked up The Manual of Detection recently too ... I'm sure I will read it during this challenge. I hope it was good!

  8. *kicking myself I can't believe I haven't read this yet. This was on my RIP list for last year, if you can believe it. I started it, then put it down for something else, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense since I thought it was great.

    And you've written a great review! I absolutely must get to this this year.

  9. JS - I hope that you like it! It's a great RIP read.