The Prefects Steal the Show

I eschewed walking the dog this morning, much to his chagrin, so I could finish The Somnambulist.  Some reviews I’d skimmed over griped about the ending, particularly the last fifty pages.  Just goes to show you not to trust the reviews.  I loved this book!  Sure there were a few slow parts in the middle, but man, that ending just had me turning page after page.  I loved the fact that the narrator turned out to be the chief bad guy.  I was disappointed by the fact that Mrs. Grossmith’s fiance turned out to be a spy, loosing one of the book’s tenuous holds on reality.  But still, she was a great character.  I would really like to see this book made into a big budget screenplay, but I know that will never happen.  (Frank Miller, want a new project?)

Ok, on to some specifics.  The Prefects were awesome.  These brothers were dressed as and looked like English schoolboys but were fully grown adults.  Hawker and Boon.  They spoke in tandem, playing off each other which just made them all the creepier.  Oh yeah, and they’re gruesomely effective assassins who set up their contracts by meeting with their prospective employer in abandoned school playgrounds in the dead of night.

“Please,” he said.  “I’m deadly earnest.  I need you to kill two men.”

“Wrong ‘uns, are they sir?

“Ne’er-do-wells?”

“Bounders?”

“Rotters?”

“Cads?”

“Give us their names, sir. Do.”

These guys are gonna have me looking over my shoulder for a while.  The efficiency with which they killed, but at the same time, with such flair, was fun to read, scary to think about, and those feelings combined ended up making me feel slightly slimy for liking them so much, but, wow.  Their denoumont in the book’s final scenes needs to be set to a symphony and shown in agonizingly slow motion.

The narration style was great; I was not annoyed at all by having the narrator interrupt the flow of the story from time to time to apologize for some unbelievable aspect of the story but go on to beg my indulgence a bit longer, or to warn me that the next thing that happened will stretch my willing suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point.  Rather, I found that it heightened the excitement.  The diction and syntax were particularly enjoyable as well, making it fun to read not only for story but for how things sounded.

I was annoyed by one line (though again, the construction of it was wonderful): “Feeling much as Jesus must have felt once Thomas had finished rummaging about in His ghostly wounds, I tried hard not to seem smug.”

Perhaps it is because we just read that pericope in church, but, Thomas never actually felt the wounds.  Once he saw them he confessed, “My Lord and my God,” falling to his knees.  Little things like that, which are so easily researched, that go unnoticed by either author or editor bug me.  Like the book of Revelations from the previous book I read.  It’s not Revelations.  It’s Revelation.  Do me a favor.  Look it up.  It’ll make you look less dumb.

Ok, rant over on that issue.  All in all this was a marvelously fun novel, a great first novel, and one which makes me very anxious to read his second book, The Domino Men.  Kudos to Jonathan  Barnes – you kindled my imagination and didn’t take yourself so seriously as to be pretentious, but had fun writing, which led to my having fun reading.  Great book.

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Another Connection

I’ve lost my camera – that’s not what I meant to type at all but that’s what came out.  My camera’s batteries are dead and I haven’t gotten new ones yet.  That’s the truth, so there’s no new pictures right now.

Anyway, I meant to say this earlier, but another connection between this book and my previous one are the gimmicky first lines.

From Mister B. Gone:  “Burn this book.”

From The Somnambulist: “Be warned.  This book has no literary merit whatsoever.  It it a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous, and willfully bizarre.  Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.”

The difference:  While both examples worked, as in, they got me interested to read further, the second is far more successful.  You can’t say that you write in “drearily pedestrian prose” and be believed.  If that were true, the line would read more like this, “My writing sucks.”  In fact, the narrative style of The Somnambulist is quite good though I can imagine the semi-constant interruptions of the narrator would annoy some people.  (Several years ago, this kind of thing was quite in vogue as being post-modern.)  The characters are a lot of fun.  Right now I’m about an hundred pages from the end and the story is still interesting although it has slowed down a little.  I’m thinking the book is exactly the right length, because I suspect the plot is about to pick up considerable speed and race to the end.  If so, it will mean that the somewhat slower middle was limited and about just the right size to establish and develop characters without slowing down too much.  The characters are a lot of fun, too -I’ve particularly enjoyed (aside from the two principles) Mrs. Grossmith and Barabbas.  Mrs. Grossmith’s late-in-life romance is a great side tale that serves as a sort of humorous foil into real life apart from the unbelievable aspects of the main plot.  As unconentional (in literature, in real life it happens all the time) as it is, it grounds the narrative in a reality that you can hold on to.  Barabbas, on the other hand, in ensconced firmly in the realm of the weird.  I really want to know what his backstory is with Moon, but I doubt I ever will find out.  Barabbas’ death scene was one of the best I’ve read in a while.  So vivid and so awesome!

I wish the whole connection to Coleridge’s poetry had either been introduced earlier or would be sustained longer.  I’m wondering if Barnes is a fan of Dan Simmon’s work, who puts Keats into about every sentence he types.  The idea of using another author’s work to influence the drama of your story is one that appeals to me and gives a sense of depth that I enjoy.  It also shows off the education of the author, or at least their ability to successfully navigate wikipedia.

Looking forward to the end of The Somnambulist now not only because I’ve heard it is Weird, but also because I’ve finally purchased (being unable to get it at the library, the hold list being so long) The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the Pulitzwer Prize winning novel from Dominican writer Junot Diaz.  It’s about a nerd who refers to his tormentors/bullies as “ringwraiths.”  I’m excited.

Not a cure for Insomnia

So, after the dreaful and painstaking process it was making it through Mister B. Gone, it was with a sigh of relief that I picked up Jonathan Barnes’ first book, The Somnambulist.  The link between Barker’s drivel and Tom McCarthy’s Remainder was principle characters unfit for normal society.  The line between Barker’s book and Barne’s is a theme of murder, and somewhat unconventional characters.

Let me be clear: I hated Mister B. Gone but so far and really enjoying The Somnambulist.  I really like the seedy London setting and the characters are intriguing to me.  I’ve always liked stories dealing with magicians, a la Houdini.  For me they hold a kind of majesty, hearkening back, if you will to a somewhat simpler time, when belief in the unbelievable was possible and imagination was encouraged.  Edward Moon and his sidekick, the enigmatic Somnambulist are fascinating.  I really appreciate the fact that while Moon is a pretty decent guy, kind of your standard good guy, Barnes immediately gives him a bizarre vice – atypical prostitutes.  For example, he’s particularly fond of a bearded woman with an extra arm, underdeveloped, and protruding from between her breasts.  Like I said, atypical.

Like the previous novel, this one reads fairly fast.  Unlike the previous novel, I’m excited and disappointed by that because I like the characters, the setting and the story, which, on page 60 is just beginning to unfold.  So far it is exciting and just a fun read.  Nothing too profound or particularly “literary,” just good, clean fun.