Review: The Somnambulist

The Somnambulist
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I should have liked this book a lot more than I did. It has everything I enjoy in a fantasy: a well-realised, fantastical alternative cityscape; eldritch powers battling behind the scenes of a dimly-glimpsed complex political landscape; a lead character both out of step and trapped by the society around him; a hidden history that plays itself out in the present; and elements of freakishness that manage to be simultaneously mundane and disturbing, both to the reader and to those with whom they interact.

The only problem was, none of it seemed to hang together very well, and I found myself more concerned with the fate of several incidental characters than I did with the central protagonists, or with the narrative they were pursuing. The narrator’s voice is an intrusion rather than a seamless addition, and when his identity is revealed, it throws the veracity of the whole plot into doubt– there are far too many moments when he could simply not have known what was transpiring for the revelation of his identity to make sort of narrative sense– and undermines the entire narrative, destroying any verisimilitude. The reader has been conned, and it kills the book.

Ultimately, the whole thing felt empty, and those elements that did not fit– and there were several that worked too far against the grain– became irritants that I could not ignore. It’s mostly an enjoyable book. It’s just that when it wasn’t, it really wasn’t, and ultimately, the work as a whole doesn’t quite overcome those irritating moments.

View all my reviews

Review: Bad Luck and Trouble

The Somnambulist
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I should have liked this book a lot more than I did. It has everything I enjoy in a fantasy: a well-realised, fantastical alternative cityscape; eldritch powers battling behind the scenes of a dimly-glimpsed complex political landscape; a lead character both out of step and trapped by the society around him; a hidden history that plays itself out in the present; and elements of freakishness that manage to be simultaneously mundane and disturbing, both to the reader and to those with whom they interact.

The only problem was, none of it seemed to hang together very well, and I found myself more concerned with the fate of several incidental characters than I did with the central protagonists, or with the narrative they were pursuing. The narrator’s voice is an intrusion rather than a seamless addition, and when his identity is revealed, it throws the veracity of the whole plot into doubt– there are far too many moments when he could simply not have known what was transpiring for the revelation of his identity to make sort of narrative sense– and undermines the entire narrative, destroying any verisimilitude. The reader has been conned, and it kills the book.

Ultimately, the whole thing felt empty, and those elements that did not fit– and there were several that worked too far against the grain– became irritants that I could not ignore. It’s mostly an enjoyable book. It’s just that when it wasn’t, it really wasn’t, and ultimately, the work as a whole doesn’t quite overcome those irritating moments.

View all my reviews

Review: The Affair

The Affair
The Affair by Lee Child

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a difficult book to like. A collection of universally-unlikeable characters, engaged in a circle of clumsy lies, beatings and general bastardry, revolving around a plot that asks the reader to care about the outcome of a “Who’s the biggest shit” contest, and all driven by a protagonist so unbelievable and one-dimensional that I struggle to believe that this is the 16th book in the series. Childs’ style is distinctly limited, and the reader receives no insight into why anybody– least of all his sociopathic ubermensch lead, Jack Reacher– sees fit to follow their lines of action. It’s somewhere at the level of the old ‘Destroyer’ or ‘Executioner’ potboilers, and I’m at a loss to work out how this has become so popular. Perhaps it’s the Rambo-esque appeal of a gun-toting, reactionary hard man for a country of similar tastes, but at least ‘First Blood’ was a decent book.

View all my reviews

Review: Our Kind of Traitor

Our Kind of Traitor
Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carré

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A promising scenario, but let down by cartoonish characterisation and the single most overt example of an author growing bored with his own book and ending it by simply finishing the sentence he was on. While the book is filled with Le Carre’s usual mix of connotative dialogue, double-guessing and cynical motivations, the cast of incompetents, buffoons and unsympathetically portrayed victims made this a difficult book to warm to, and ultimately, it was impossible to care very much for the consequences of anybody’s actions and, ultimately, anybody’s fate. Really not anywhere near his best.

View all my reviews