Project yourself back to Victorian London, with its teeming thoroughfares and dark alleys. Into that evocative scene now place Edward Moon, a deft stage magician and detective, and his silent associate, the Somnambulist. It would appear that the stage has been set for a criminal probes worthy of Holmes himself, but actually The Somnambulist unfolds something just as ambitious, yet far weirder. Moon discovers that giant rats are not the only things rustling through the city's gaslit streets; fiendish plotters, including the walking dead, have descended upon the great metropolis, bringing with them shades of Doctor Caligari and Edward Gorey.
…[a] strange, outrageous and wonderful extravaganza…Variously a satire, an adventure, a mystery and a horror show…There is much that is strange, magical and darkly hilarious in this book, at least if one savors the sardonic and the bizarre. At various points it recalls Dickens, Alice in Wonderland and Frankenstein, but it remains an original and monumentally inventive piece of work by a writer still in his 20s. Barnes seems to leave himself room for a sequela consummation devoutly to be wished.
The Washington Post
Jonathan Barnes puts a perfectly good Oxford education to mischievous misuse in The Somnambulist…a cheeky tale constructed largely of parts salvaged from the sensationalist novels of the past three centuries…While some readers may be dismayed by the novel's lack of logic or coherence, it doesn't take an English-lit wonk to appreciate the antic mind that would name two of the grotesquely deformed prostitutes in Mrs. Puggsley's brothel after virginal victims of Count Draculaand find a role in these shenanigans for Coleridge.
The New York Times
Set in Victorian London, this superb debut from British author Barnes raises the bar for historical thrillers, starting with its curious opening line: "Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever." A page-turner, it's full of peculiar characters, notably Edward Moon, a highly unorthodox detective, and Moon's bizarre sidekick, known only as the Somnambulist. Moon, "a conjuror by profession" whose act has fallen on hard times, has cracked some of the city's most notorious murders. Now, he's leading the investigation into a shadowy religious group aiming to overtake London and do away with its oppressive, bourgeois tendencies. Moon is a remarkable invention, a master of logic and harborer of all sorts of unnatural habits and mannerisms. The Somnambulist-a giant, milk-swigging mute-doesn't appear to be human at all, yet serves as Moon's moral as well as intellectual compass. Together, they wend their way through a London rich in period detail. Barnes saves his best surprise for the story's homestretch, when he reveals the identity of his narrator, who's been cleverly pulling strings since the opening. (Feb.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Who is the Somnambulist? The character (like the novel) is festooned with layer upon layer of oddities. Not only is he a mute giant who is invulnerable to weapons and addicted to milk, but he also sleeps in a bunk bed, is completely bald, and glues a wig to his head every day. His partner, the magician and private detective Edward Moon, sleeps in the other bunk bed, dallies with bearded ladies of the evening, and has a mysterious past. In fact, nearly everyone in the turn-of-the-century Victorian London depicted here has a mysterious past, except for Mr. Cribb, who has a mysterious future because his life runs backward in time. Despite this, Barnes's literary debut doesn't come across as jokey or as an obvious parody-it takes itself seriously enough to be a compelling and entertaining read on its own merits. A reader of Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Wilkie Collins is likely to find plenty to wink at, but the story works on many levels. Highly recommended for public libraries.-Jenne Bergstrom, San Diego Cty. Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Turn-of-the-20th-century London is reimagined as a busily embattled hell on earth in Oxford graduate Barnes's insistently eventful debut novel. Shades of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Caleb Carr's The Alienist, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Kim Newman's Dracula-inflected Victoriana surround the hectic plot, which is introduced by an unnamed narrator (whose identity, once revealed, may or may not surprise you) who warns that the story we're about to read is sheer nonsense and that he is not to be trusted. How can the preempted reviewer compete? Perhaps by summarizing a hyperbolic narrative that opens with the savage murder of a wealthy dilettante-actor (the first of two similarly baffling crimes), followed by the introduction of blase stage magician and defrocked detective Edward Moon and his assistant, the eponymous somnambulist, who's eight feet tall, bald all over and a mute who communicates with Moon through amusingly misspelled messages written on a chalkboard. Symbolic suggested connections between the moon and sleep multiply, notably when a character known as "the Sleeper" enters the action. He has lots of company, including the wicked albino Skimpole (a nod to Dickens), a kind of reverse psychic (Cribb) who claims to be living his life backwards, amiable assassins Hawke and Boone and the activities of a secret government agency known as the Directorate, engaged in monitoring the machinations of a powerful law firm devoted to the creation of an anti-governmental "pantisocracy" (based on one of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's loonier notions). Barnes's energetic prose is an efficient vehicle for presenting one outrageous character or situation after another. Alas, theyare legion, and are only infrequently successfully integrated into the plot. Racing through this daft melodrama is like topping off a slice of pecan pie with a chocolate pizza. It is fun going down, but chances are you'll hate yourself in the morning.
Kansas City Star
“Anyone who loves a good, kind of creepy thriller most likely will find something to love in [these] pages…. Thoroughly enjoyable.”
New York Times
“A cheeky tale...salvaged from the sensationalist novels of the past three centuries....it doesn’t take an English-lit wonk to appreciate the antic mind that would name two of the grotesquely deformed prostitutes in Mrs. Puggsley’s brothel after virginal victims of Count Dracula.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A first novel that shows all the polish and poise of a master storyteller….By turns disquieting, funny, and taunting.”
“Old school entertainment in the penny-dreadful tradition that almost succeeds in being as sublime as it is ridiculous.”
“Strange, outrageous, and wonderful … There is much that is strange, magical, and darkly hilarious about this book … An original and monumentally inventive piece of work by a writer still in his 20s. Barnes seems to leave himself room for a sequel—a consummation devoutly to be wished.”
“[B]rilliant...Barnes crafts one of the finest first novels of the young century...Truly surprising plot twists and red herrings abound.”
“The Somnambulist is not your great-grandfather’s mystery yarn.”
“Magical, dark, beautifully odd–and utterly compelling–this is an astonishing debut.”
“Sneaky, cheeky, and dark in the best possible way, Jonathan Barnes’ massively entertaining THE SOMNAMBULIST manages to make the familiar daringly unfamiliar. I enjoyed the heck out of this novel.”
“Macabre wit and stylistic panache. Parliament should immediately pass a law requiring Barnes to write a sequel.”
“A comic extravaganza, deftly plotted, fiendishly clever, and wonderfully funny. . . . One of the classiest entertainments I’ve read.”
Read an Excerpt
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. Every word of what follows actually happened, and I am merely the journalist, the humble Boswell, who has set it down. You'll have realised by now that I am new to this business of storytelling, that I lack the skill of an expert, that I am without any ability to enthral the reader, to beguile with narrative tricks or charm with sleight of hand.
But I can promise you three things: to relate events in their neatest and most appropriate order; to omit nothing I consider significant; and to be as frank and free with you as I am able.
I must ask you in return to show some little understanding for a man come late in life to tale-telling, an artless dilettante who, on dipping his toes into the shallows of story, hopes only that he will not needlessly embarrass himself.
One final thing, one final warning: in the spirit of fair play, I ought to admit that I shall have reason to tell you more than one direct lie.
What, then, should you believe? How will you distinguish truth from fiction?
Naturally, I leave that to your discretion. The Somnambulist
A Novel. Copyright © by Jonathan Barnes. Reprinted bypermission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.