Debut Review: The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

The SomnambulistTitle: The Somnambulist
Author: Jonathan Barnes
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 10 Jan 08
Price: £7.99
Bought Copy

There is something intriguing about Victorian England. A place and time that has a personality all of it’s own. It’s that personality which Barnes draws on for The Somnambulist. Set in Victorian London we follow the latest and maybe last case of Detective and Stage Conjurer Edward Moon as he looks into the mysterious murder of Cyril Honeyman. But all is not as it seems. Something is afoot.

A good writer gets the reader to suspend their disbelief and brings them into the story’s reality. It feels like if you take a wrong turn you might run into The Somnambulist writing on his chalkboard as Edward Moon waves his hand dismissively.

The Somnambulist is a strange tale. We follow Moon as he traipses around London following leads and taking us to some weird and wonderful places like establishment of Mrs Pugsey and the butchers shop in Limehouse. The places are nothing compared to characters like Mr Cribb, who can’t possibly knows what he says he knows and Madame Innocenti whose prediction makes the investigations of Edward Moon even more urgent.

The story isn’t wholly logical and it isn’t meant to be. It’s phantasmagorical, teasing, and imaginative. The characters are extra-ordinary sometimes grotesque but quite believable in this setting. A combination of the personality of the narrator and skill of Barnes makes it strangely believable and quite compelling.

There are some oddities even in this strange tale. In part it comes down the to limitations of the point of the view of the narrator (quite cleverly chosen BTW) and partly it is the tale as a whole. It doesn’t quite all fit but no matter the journey is highly enjoyable entertaining and it doesn’t spoil the tale being told.

I’m looking forward to sampling more of Barnes’s formidable imagination in The Domino Men where characters from The Somnambulist are trapped in a chalk circle under Downing Street, a manuscript brings together every conspiracy theory about the Royal Family and explains where the power of Number 10 really lies.


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