Barnes, Jonathan. The Somnambulist. New York: William Morrow, 2008. Summary
: Full-time magician and part-time detective Edward Moon and his silent giant of a partner, known only as The Somnambulist, become embroiled in a series of bizarre murders that ultimately leads them to a Machiavellian plot to remake Victorian London into a utopia straight out of the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Comments
: I was so sure that by the end of this pleasingly pulpy piece of gothic fiction that I would know why it is titled The Somnambulist
(which means, in case you were wondering, "Sleepwalker"). But no dice. And for that matter, I do not understand why the character
known as The Somnambulist is called that; he drinks nothing but milk and never speaks, but he does not seem to be sleepwalking. Ah, never mind. Despite several lapses of logic that become increasingly illogical the more you actually stop to think about them, this novel is a lot of fun to read. I am greatly reminded of early Neil Gaiman with respect to both style and subject matter, while the ambiguous sexuality of the protagonist seems indebted to women fantasy/horror writers such as Anne Rice and Tanith Lee. (Moon's former lover is a Dorian Gray-like criminal hedonist whom the media calls "The Fiend." Umm...remember that sodomy was illegal in Victorian England.) Really, the only thing truly dissatisfying about the reading experience is the ending. Barnes himself uses the phrase "deux ex machina" at one point, and that about sums it up. This isn't such great literature that it merits serious consideration as to how it could have been improved, but there is no question that the author totally wimped out in the last fifty pages or so. He could have done better. Fortunately, this is only his debut work, so there is plenty of room for improvement. Which I am convinced will be forthcoming. Make no mistake: Jonathan Barnes will be one to watch. Rating
- Gothic fantasy/horror that follows in the footsteps of a great literary tradition. Should be appreciated by a wide segment of readers.