The Somnambulist sounded like an interesting story: a magician who helped the London police solve crimes was drawn into a weird crime that became of great importance. I purchased the book with great anticipation.
I am sorry I purchased it and I'm sorry I read it.
I have never felt so out of the loop in a story I was reading. Jonathan Barnes worked hard to make his mystery mysterious — and to keep it that way.
I knew very early into the book that I might be in trouble. First, the narrator was trying too hard to be mysterious. He began with great familiarity with the reader, as though the reader should know who he was, but gave no real clue as to who he might be. Finally, the narrator inserted himself into the story time and again in ways that suggested readers should know why — and yet I didn't. Was he of historical significance? Literary significance? Biblical? (It will not spoil the book to tell readers the narrator is none of the above. His significance is wholly within the realm of the world Barnes created — a world to which we have not yet been introduced.)
Many of the clues were heavy-handed and, at the same time, obscure. A character, prop or situation would scream, "CLUE!" but it remained unclear as to why. Should one know how a lesser-known Bible scripture reads? Should one know what poison is being used because of a single indistinguishable symptom? How would the reader know why a particular interaction between father and son is suspicious, and exactly what did the father and son really do?
Characters were introduced in ways that suggested the reader was supposed to be familiar with them. The problem is, this is a debut novel and the characters were not of literary or historical significance. The author was creating a world unto himself — which is fabulous, only we need to be introduced to the world and its inhabitants before we can be familiar, even intimate, with them.
I did not enjoy the novel and I would not recommend it. If you liked it, please tell me why.