The Somnambulist

The Somnambulist

Book - 2007
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Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. Needless to say, I doubt you'll believe a word of it.

Once the toast of good society in Victoria's England, the extraordinary conjurer Edward Moon no longer commands the respect or inspires the awe that he did in earlier times. Despite having previously unraveled more than sixty perplexing criminal puzzles (to the delight of a grateful London constabulary), he is considered something of an embarrassment these days. Still, each night without fail, he returns to the stage of his theatre to amaze his devoted, albeit dwindling audience with the same old astonishments--aided by his partner, the silent, hairless, hulking, surprisingly placid giant who, when stabbed, does not bleed . . . and who goes by but one appellation:

The Somnambulist

On a night of roiling mists and long shadows, in a corner of the city where only the most foolhardy will deign to tread, a rather disreputable actor meets his end in a most bizarre and terrible fashion. Baffled, the police turn once again in the direction of Edward Moon--who will always welcome such assignments as an escape from ennui. And, in fact, he leads the officers to a murderer rather quickly. Perhaps too quickly. For these are strange, strange times in England, with the strangest of sorts prowling London's dank underbelly: sinister circus performers, freakishly deformed prostitutes, sadistic grown killers in schoolboy attire, a human fly, a man who lives backwards. And nothing is precisely as it seems.

Which should be no surprise to Moon, whose life and livelihood consists entirely of the illusionary, the unexpected, the seemingly impossible. Yet what is to follow will shatter his increasingly tenuous grasp on reality--as death follows death follows death in the dastardly pursuit of poetry, freedom, utopia . . . and Love, Love, Love, and Love.

Remember the name Jonathan Barnes, for, with The Somnambulist, he has burst upon the literary scene with a breathtaking and brilliant, frightening and hilarious, dark invention that recalls Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, and Clive Barker at their grimly fantastical best . . . with more than a pinch of Carl Hiaasen-esque outrageousness stirred into the demonically delicious brew.

Read on . . . and be astonished!

Publisher: London : Gollancz, 2007
ISBN: 9780061375385
Characteristics: 284 p


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JCLJaredH Mar 14, 2013

The Somnabulist is one of the creepiest stories I have read in sometime. It is a tale of strange and freaky characters, weird mysteries, and dark places. I could almost hear the creepy music playing in the background while reading. It reads like something out Ripley's Believe it Or Not or Weird Tales. I found it to be one of those books that you are not sure you like, but you have to finish just find out the ending. It is listed as steampunk, but I would hesitate to classify it in that genre as there is only one Frankenstein moment in the story. Also try Inamorata by Joseph Gangemi or League of Extraordinary Gentleman by Alan Moore.

Jun 17, 2012

Enjoyable pot-boiler set in the end of the Victorian Era, but found it a lot of smoke and no fire: main character is supposed to be a wonder at solving mysteries, but we don't see any of this in action really; strange and wonderful characters throughout, but kind of like side show attractions (at times, literally) in that there is no depth to them. Would have been more interesting if there was a little more thought given to the characters themselves.

SB2000 Nov 21, 2011

A strange, nightmarish novel, excellently drawn and very fast paced.

It is not just the title that suggests that all the characters are sleepwalking in a vivid dream. Barnes convincingly captures the narrative voice of the lunatic convinced that he is sane. The author is obviously having a lot of fun in his Victorian London, relishing his menagerie of grotesques and characters with a few deftly drawn strokes.

He manages the trick of making us sympathise with all of them as the points of view slip and slide - and like all tricksters - or dreams, you are never quite sure whether you are really on firm ground. His creation of the "Prefects" are an absurdity that shouldn't work but, very chillingly, do.

It ends with an enigma and like most dreams, it has that narcotic quality that jumbles images and characters and incidents while still making sense and forming a strong narrative whole. When you wake, you are left with a lingering sense of wanting to go back for more, even as you realise that it is slipping just beyond your grasp.

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