Back in late 2006 I was asked by Gollancz if I would review a new novel they were going to publish. The idea was that my short text would be included on the cover or just inside so should be informative but with a restricted word count. In the end, they didn’t use my blurb, so it never saw the light of day. But lucky you… I’ve just found the original text and thought I’d re-present it here. Enjoy.
The Somnambulist, by Jonathan Barnes, reads like a first novel… impressive, gripping, funny, and full of the author’s every creative idea and vocabulary. It’s not for the light-hearted. There are twists and turns, truth and lies, and that’s just between narrator and reader. Barnes has pulled together half-remembered images from the collective consciousness and crafted a tale more possibly aimed at playing with the reader’s mind than the characters within it. Confused? Wait till you read the book. You’ll either love it or hate it, I doubt there’ll be any middle ground.
I read this book of spies and magic, intrigue and action, perversion and murder in a single session. If I needed a break, the narrator sensed this and taunted me to read on. Just when I thought I knew where the plot was going, he admitted a lie and changed direction. As the villain of the piece tries to manipulate events in the narrative, so too the narrator manipulates the reader. A curious thing indeed. Made more so by his pre-empting any criticism of style and elegance in storytelling with apology or bravado. This is not a book you’ll forget in a long time.
But what of the characters? A bizarre freak show you feel you’ve met somewhere before. Barnes seems to have borrowed elements from all over the genre, incorporating them in post-Victorian London in a familiar yet disturbing way. Hints of Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein, shadows of the Rue Morgue, with a nod to She-Hulk. All these elements flow (bizarrely) together, driven by a thesaurus-wielding sadist (with a curious sense of humour). His use of language is almost poetic and often leaves the reader feeling impotent, only to then spell out the mundane (hands up who knows what the London Monument is?)
Definitely an enGROSSing read.