Friday, September 9, 2011

The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes


Synopsis From Goodreads:

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.

I so wanted to love this book.  I wanted to be submerged in the off-kilter  action and nonsensical setting.  I wanted the atmosphere of the book to overwhelm my senses and take me to a place I've never been before.  What I got instead was a book that reminded me of every other book in the genre.  It was a book full of unlikeable characters and plot twists that seemed to exist more for the sake of showing the cleverness of the writing, as opposed to furthering the story along. 

I' m not saying I disliked everything about it, because I didn't.  I loved the author's vision of London.  He created such a decadent, dark city that I, at times, wanted to step into the page and wander the streets for myself.  Not something I would have done by myself, mind you.  I would have had to drag a friend along.   There is no way I could have walked into a whorehouse staffed by circus freaks, without forcing someone to hold my hand the entire time.  I just wish the setting could have saved this one for me.  I would love to revisit this London, I'm just not sure I can stomach the storyline again.

The story just never felt cohesive to me.  The narrator, who's identity I won't divulge, has an obvious contempt for Edward Moon.  That contempt, which oozes off the page at times, so clouds Edward that I was never able to like the guy.  I think that if I had seen him through other eyes, I may have felt differently about it.  I'm sure it was purposefully done by the author, as was the the sarcasm that spewed from the mouth of the narrator, but it just left me feeling cold at times.  It also got in the way of the action, it felt like the story was being interrupted in order for the narrator to get his point of view across.  It ended up, at least for me, cutting the story up into sections that never really fit back together.  

The book was a disappointment for me, one that I'm not sure I'll ever be able to forgive.  It had such promise, but I think the author allowed the "oddness" of the setting to get in the way of the story.    I think others will like it, I actually know a lot of gifted bloggers who loved this one, I just wish I could count myself amongst them.

17 comments:

heidenkind said...

Great review, Ryan. I wanted to read this book so bad when it first came out, and have had it sitting on my TBR shelf for years. I wonder if my subconscious is trying to tell me I won't enjoy it? ;) I do still want to read it, though; it's such a great concept.

Michelle @ The True Book Addict said...

I'm with Tasha. I think I'll still give it a shot. I bought this at a library sale a few months back. Thanks for the honest review!

Julie @ Knitting and Sundries said...

What a great, honest review. There are some books (I'm reading one of them right now) that are well-received (in my opinion) simply based on clever writing or a unique plot, but, for me, if I'm not drawn into the story itself ... if I don't feel any sort of connection with the characters ... if I'm reading it at a remove, especially where I think I SHOULD like it but can't ... those are the biggest types of disappointments in my reading journey. The fact that you were able to quite clearly put into words the things that dissatisfied you does you a service as a reviewer, as quite often, it's very difficult to pin down exactly what didn't work for you.

carolsnotebook said...

The title rings a bell, but apparently I had no idea what it was about. It doesn't sounds like one I'll make time for.

Blodeuedd said...

Oh no, it sounded good, but then I came to the disappointed part :(

reviewsbylola said...

I don't think I will bother with this one. It sounds like there are better books out there!

bermudaonion said...

It's always disappointing when a book doesn't meet your expectations. :(

StephanieD said...

I've been wondering about this book. If you were predisposed to like it, what a wrench to have to write about your disappointment.

As for the whorehouse staffed by circus freaks - I'd probably just peer through the windows rather than make an official visit:)

Staci said...

I think you gave this one a fair chance and there were aspects that you did like. I had to laugh about you needing someone to hold your hand in a whorehouse with circus freaks. that alone sounds so flippin' crazy!!! Thanks for your honest thoughts...I value it!

Kristen M. said...

Bummer! I actually did love this one. I can't wait to read it again at some point. But I can totally see how it could go wrong for many readers, especially with the unique narrator.

Missie said...

Bum deal. Unfortunately, I'm happened upon a few novels myself where I experience the same type of uncohesiveness. It always makes me feel uncomfortable.

I hope your next read is better.

Alexia561 said...

Sorry to hear that this one was a disappointment. Appreciated your review, as it was a honest reaction. One of the things that I love about the blogosphere is that everyone has different tastes, so what one loves another may not. Hope your next book is more to your taste!

Cecelia said...

I hadn't heard of this one, but my interest was caught by that lovely cover. Too bad it didn't work for you - great review!

Simcha said...

Aw, it's a shame this book didn't live up to your expectations because it sounds like it could have been really good. Glad you warned me about it.

Man of la Book said...

Great review Ryan. I try to read books without any expectations (mostly impossible). It is a shame though but if we don't read any books we don't like, we'll never read anyone we do like.

http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

Oh this sounded so interesting. I mean odd! I love odd, but I've read books where it did get in the way instead of enhancing the book. Such a shame! Well, thanks for the honest review!

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

Oooo, these are some amazing sounding book. Hope you enjoy them when you get to reading them. :)