“I expect by now that your disbelief is not so much suspended as dangling from the highest plateau of credulity. Even so, I regret that this next incident requires further extension of that capacity.”
I had waited weeks for the arrival of Jonathan Barnes’ The Somnambulist. In my desire to explore more fantasy and science-fiction novels I discovered a roundabout way to list all of the new books arriving at the store. The Somnambulist was one of them and had sounded so fascinating – somnambulist is one of my favorite words and the book’s description included references to Wordsworth and Coleridge, a carnivalesque atmosphere, and gruesome and gothic thrills – that either it was going to be brilliant or like one of those films where too many big name celebrities are cast and it ultimately is horrible.
In the case of The Somnambulist: a brilliant and thrilling adventure. Edward Moon and his partner, a somnambulist, star in a theater of marvels, but moonlight as detectives. A freakishly bizarre death lead the two into an unforgettable journey that links their past and future and climaxes with a Coleridgian utopia cult. Perhaps the most interesting part of The Somnambulist is the actual narrative. Though it does not seem as popular as it once was (though I have been seeing it more and more in recent novels), the narrator speaks directly to the reader narrating the events in retrospect. Barnes, however, utilizes this voice to request a distinct level of attention and belief from his audience.
Barnes also incorporates themes that stretch the reader’s sense of belief as the narrator tells us from the beginning that everything is true and factual – except for when it’s not. I just finished a Kelly Link collection that does a beautiful and graceful job in blurring fictional reality and fantasy, but Barnes’ The Somnambulist does this and provides a delightful mind game as the reader pursues the narrator through what is beyond a shadow of a doubt believable and what stretches the belief.
The Somnambulist was a splendid book and I hope to read more from Barnes in the future. While reading The Somnambulist it very much reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s Watch series within his Discworld series with the character Sam Vimes. So, if you find yourself liking one I definitely suggest the other.