The Somnambulist
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The Somnambulist

3.4 32
by Jonathan Barnes
     
 

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Once the toast of good society in Victoria's England, the extraordinary conjurer Edward Moon no longer commands the respect that he did in earlier times. Still, each night he returns to the stage of his theater to amaze his devoted, albeit dwindling, audience, aided by his partner, the Somnambulist—a silent, hairless, hulking giant who, when stabbed, does not

Overview

Once the toast of good society in Victoria's England, the extraordinary conjurer Edward Moon no longer commands the respect that he did in earlier times. Still, each night he returns to the stage of his theater to amaze his devoted, albeit dwindling, audience, aided by his partner, the Somnambulist—a silent, hairless, hulking giant who, when stabbed, does not bleed. But these are strange, strange times in England, with the oddest of sorts prowling London's dank underbelly. And the very bizarre death of a disreputable actor has compelled a baffled police constabulary to turn once again to Edward Moon for help—inevitably setting in motion events that will shatter his increasingly tenuous grasp on reality.

Editorial Reviews

Michael Marshall
“Magical, dark, beautifully odd–and utterly compelling–this is an astonishing debut.”
Jeff Vandermeer
“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.”
James Morrow
“Macabre wit and stylistic panache. Parliament should immediately pass a law requiring Barnes to write a sequel.”
Christopher Bram
“A comic extravaganza, deftly plotted, fiendishly clever, and wonderfully funny. . . . One of the classiest entertainments I’ve read.”
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.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Old school entertainment in the penny-dreadful tradition that almost succeeds in being as sublime as it is ridiculous.”
Washington Post
“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.”
Austin Chronicle
“[B]rilliant...Barnes crafts one of the finest first novels of the young century...Truly surprising plot twists and red herrings abound.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“The Somnambulist is not your great-grandfather’s mystery yarn.”
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.
Patrick Anderson
…[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 sequel—a consummation devoutly to be wished.
—The Washington Post
Marilyn Stasio
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 Dracula—and find a role in these shenanigans for Coleridge.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

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
Library Journal

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.
Kirkus Reviews
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061375392
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/06/2009
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
728,876
Product dimensions:
5.32(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Somnambulist
A Novel

Chapter One

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.

What People are saying about this

Jeff Vandermeer
“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.”
Christopher Bram
“A comic extravaganza, deftly plotted, fiendishly clever, and wonderfully funny. . . . One of the classiest entertainments I’ve read.”
James Morrow
“Macabre wit and stylistic panache. Parliament should immediately pass a law requiring Barnes to write a sequel.”
Michael Marshall
“Magical, dark, beautifully oddand utterly compellingthis is an astonishing debut.”

Meet the Author

Jonathan Barnes, author of the critically acclaimed novel The Somnambulist, graduated from Oxford University with a first in English literature. He reviews for the Times Literary Supplement and lives in London.

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The Somnambulist 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Janus More than 1 year ago
This was quite a curious little book. I would like to start by saying that the narrative style Barnes uses is really enjoyable. He definitely evokes that sense of Victorian mystery and quirky humor. The story was really good and would have made for a great novel except for a few shortcomings that really brought the book as a whole down. First: The characters. By the end the reader feels as though they have a better understanding of the supporting cast than they do the major characters. Edward Moon is supposed to be a vain and self-absorbed man, but the only times this truly shows is when someone flat out says so. He felt weak and I never saw any of the keen intellect that was supposed to make him such a great detective. Second: There are some things the author never explains that he really should have. Being enigmatic is one thing, but I got the sense that whenever he couldn't get the explanation of something to work within the context of the story, he simply left it out. Last: Barnes does a phenomenal job of building a real sense of tension throughout the novel. Readers will find themselves frequently attempting to unravel what this looming threat, this conspiracy behind everything, is. When we find out we are in for the let downs of let downs. I almost wonder if Barnes just stopped caring by the end of the book.
goodlifeor More than 1 year ago
If Jonathan Barnes is a good writer, he wasted his time on this tale. It is filled ad nauseum with what appears to be his forte of creating misshapen, repugnant characters that he uses badly. He has some good characters; but without much in the way of individual feelings. Even his characters have an aversion to each other. Do not read this book if you want to derive pleasure from characters and ideas you have met in your reading. This is not a keeper.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am torn when it comes to this book. Although the writing style Barnes' chooses captivated me, the essence of the book does not. At best I could read three chapters before having to put it down. However, the premise of the book is so outlandish that it sucked me back in. I would recommend it if only for the sole purpose of expanding your vocabulary, but also to make yourself suspend belief and catapult you to a different time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jonathan Barnes does a wonderful job with the characters of Moon and the mute Somnambulist. I found this a very difficult book to put down. Unfortunately, the last few chapters really stretch the imagination a bit far. It was just a bit too 'science fiction!' What we should see in any future Moon tales would be the prequels that would involve the cases so often referred to in this book...particularly the Clapham case! Write on, Mr. Barnes, write on!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable and engaging, with interesting characters and a bizarre, sprawling plot that should attract any fan of the strange and mysterious. Towards the end, it does degenerate a bit into pure senseless oddity, but overall, I look forward to the next offering from Jonathan Barnes.
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Ronrose More than 1 year ago
Let me make it perfectly clear, this is not a book you should approach lightly. It is a puzzling mixture of mystery, suspense, a touch of Victorian horror story mixed in a jumble of parts. At first it seems that all these qualities might make an exceedingly good tale, but alas it does not. The author tells the story of Edward Moon, magician and part time detective and his companion, the Somnambulist, who together are called upon to solve a series of murders and in so doing save London from destruction. The author tries to pay homage to past writers and their creations ranging from Sherlock Holmes to Frankenstein. I felt the author was being a bit too cute with the reader, going so far as to tell us that he would at times lie and mislead the reader, which he does.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Starling3 More than 1 year ago
I had very high expectations for this book, but was very disappointed. While the novel was atmospheric, the plot seemed to go nowhere. Some characters were interesting, but halfway through I found myself losing who's who, and eventually not caring.
Newfound.Joye More than 1 year ago
Jonathan Barnes' The Somnambulist is a well written novel. The reader is swept through London following the trail of gritty murders, sneaky officials, religious cults, and a suave magician. Although easy to read, The Somnambulist loses part of its momentum towards the end of the book feeling rather rushed. Overall, Barnes has a particularly smooth writing style and you will not find yourself re-reading previous chapters to remember small details. I would recommend reading if you are enchanted by magicians, time-travel, twisted plots, and a somnambulist.
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emmi331 More than 1 year ago
This is one of the strangest yarns I've come across, and very hard to put down. It's set in London in the early 1900s and involves a wild conspiracy by an off-the-wall group who wants to take over the city. Into this mess stumbles Edward Moon, a washed-up magician with a giant of a partner who has the peculiar ability to be pierced with swords without bleeding. Edward has been involved in police cases in the past, the latest of which was a disaster, though we are left tantalizingly short of details on this. Perhaps in Mr. Barnes's next book? In any case, by the end of the book we have met a truly weird assortment of characters. Along with all this are the further components of science fiction and a touch of the supernatural. Often outlandish, always entertaining....I look forward to the author's next novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago