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Terribly Good (and Terrible): The Somnambulist, Reviewed

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The Somnambulist Jonathan Barnes 

“Be warned.  This book has no literary merit whatsoever.  It is a lurid piece of nonsense… I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.”

With an intro like that, how could one resist continuing onward into the eerie realm of Jonathan Barnes’ The Somnambulist?


 

The Somnambulist
Jonathan Barnes
2007
William Morrow
   Jonathan Barnes makes a bold entrance onto the literary scene with The Somnambulist.  In this creepy, campy, and absurd debut novel, the author chooses a particularly difficult style, bad writing done well,  and with no small success: This guy really knows how to suck.
   Edward Moon is a misanthropic, possibly psychic, magician.  His assistant is the Somnambulist, an eight-foot-tall mute who is seemingly indestructible.  Together they perform for a dwindling audience at The Theatre of Marvels.  On the side they solve crimes.   The opening chapters find the unlikely duo investigating the murder of Cyril Honeyman, who was thrown from a tower that appears on no maps by a hideous creature conjured by his own mother. 

   After that it starts getting weird.

   The Somnambulist creeps through Victorian England, a vice-ridden setting that is currently all the rage in fiction.  Barnes, however,  is not content to stop with laudanum, opium dens, prostitution and murder.  He throws in mutants, misfits, far-fetched conspiracies, a cult, a carnival, and a touch of Gothic horror; all topped off with pure evil in a schoolboy uniform.  The author builds on a fragile foundation:  The plot is ridiculous and the narrator predictable.  The entire novel would collapse if it wasn’t such a good time (in a ‘just plain wrong’ way):  Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s brutal,  it’s always weird, and it never plays fair.  Perhaps The Somnambulist is closer to real life than it first appears… 

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