I first found this novel through my mom's Reader's Digest. Then I bought the 'special offer' edition, and the second through fourth books in the serie...moreI first found this novel through my mom's Reader's Digest. Then I bought the 'special offer' edition, and the second through fourth books in the series. At some point I donated the first two, bought the last one and then returned it.
I didn't actually read the whole book last night, I started on chapter four, since I'd read up to that point when I bought the book (again).
Frankly, the Reader's Digest edition of this novel, if not better than the original, definitely plays to the strengths: the characters and the action. It's a little pulpy, but Thomas definitely takes on a different perspective of Victorian London, populated by outsiders. Barker, the primary detective having very strong ties to China, Llewelyn (obviously) Welsh, the Jewish butler (who's pretty fantastic), and French cook.
There's a lot to enjoy in Some Danger Involved, though if you're familiar with history, much of this won't surprise you. Much of the text of the novel covers habits and little quirks of London that still don't add much to the setting, and I think were probably what were condensed out of R.D. Still, it's a strong mystery and Thomas definitely knows his setting. (less)
Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever.
These first words, both on the front flap and front page, are the reason I picked up The Somnam...more
Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever.
These first words, both on the front flap and front page, are the reason I picked up The Somnambulist and raised my hopes.
Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed.
What with such a promising voice and the subject matter--Victoriana, such possibilities!--I expected a lot more...exuberance, I think is the word. Instead, despite the promise of "no literary merit", it's written in a literary style. Which, quite frankly, isn't very Victorian or pulp.
The title is misleading too. Yes, there is "the Somnambulist" but he was more a Chekhov's gun than a character. He was introduced early, and brought back in the last few pages, but for the most part entirely forgotten in the middle.
Actually, the middle was just about a turning point. Barnes had a fairly interesting story set up in the beginning, and then the book just seemed to lose focus. Large casts can be interesting, but this book should have been Moon's story, and the Somnabulist should have had a reason for being there other than the Deus ex Machina. So character after character just kept being introduced, far too late for a reader to truly care, and only in time to confuse the plot and weaken the sense of suspense.
What's almost worse is that Barnes kept lampshading these weaknesses:
They were in a bubble there, the giant thought, far removed from the world outside, and on hearing Gillman speak, he felt as though someone's else's story, some other narrative, were impinging itself, suddenly and without warning, upon there own.
Well, I for one, couldn't keep track of which story was actually being told. I often enjoy metafictional devices, but here it felt they were only used to highlight the story's weaknesses, those I was trying to ignore.
The narrative structure also distracted from the story. Complicated narrative voices can work, but this has a first person narrator telling a story in third person; not, ostensibly, about Moon, the first character (who's not a corpse-in-waiting) we meet, or the Somnambulist, who only occasionally gets a POV, or even the narrator--though I think at the end we're supposed to think so. Given the early set up--the narrator, Moon, and the Somnambulist, suddenly around chapter 10 and to the end, another half dozen characters all get POV time.
And while I found the narrator occasionally amusing--after the first chapter, I did laugh once or twice, the big reveal of his identity left me cold. At that point, I knew it wasn't any POV character so far, nor any of the previous 'big three', so I knew it was going to be just another character.
And after the reveal, the story lost most of it's momentum and immediacy, which is a shame because that's when most of the action actually happened, not to mentioned the horror. (view spoiler)[A child is found beaten to death, and it was dull. (hide spoiler)] And the narrator was just obnoxious, rather than amusing.
There were plenty of well-placed elements of the grotesque that added to the atmosphere. Ms. Puggsley's, was a fantastic invention. Barnes did a good job with the female character, letting them be characters, and none of them were just what they should be as females. Unfortunately, none of them were particularly significant characters, though Charlotte should have been.
"Curious, is it not, how it is often the worst sceptics and bitterest cynics who become the most zealous of us all" And the transition of that character's story mostly works, though we don't see it.
(view spoiler)[Speight's sign though...if you don't see that coming...but his character was actually well done--like the canary in the coal mine. He's well done in that it's subtly done (hide spoiler)]
Now, The Somnambulist is well written, but somehow I felt that it held the work back. Earlier, I said it should have been exuberant. The Somnambulist can't be human! Moon is past his prime, but London is going to be destroyed! Why all the literary sophistication, when 1) the narrator is "without any ability to enthral the reader, to beguile with narrative tricks"; and 2) it's too slow for the subject. It's supposed to play with the ideas of Doyle (which is explicitly pointed out in the text), Poe, Wilke Collins and even Mary Shelley--at least according to one of the blurbs. By rights, it ought to be a little fun.
This is undoubtedly because it was a stylistic choice--fair warning, at the end the narrator tells the story behind the story:
I feel sure that my skill has grown with the tale's telling and I am concerned that the opening sections must seem amateurish and crude in comparison with later chapters. I have repeatedly asked if I might not be allowed the complete manuscript, if only for an hour or two, so that I might make some revisions and clarifications from which the work can only benefit. To date, they have denied my every request
But I can't enjoy literary posturing just for the sake of literary posturing. Metafiction can be fun, but only when there's enough of a story to rest on.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
It's rather difficult to talk about. Because I found Part 1 rather distancing, and unconvincing as to Susan Trinder's...moreI wish I liked Fingersmith more.
It's rather difficult to talk about. Because I found Part 1 rather distancing, and unconvincing as to Susan Trinder's view of the world, but it turns out to all make sense around page 350. Which was very cleverly done. But I wish that as a reader I might have been given some clue even if the character had none (difficult to do, but I've seen it done).
So the plotting: intricate, clever, dramatic. Solid, and overall, convincing.
The characters: Our two protagonists never run into any decent people, except for the general populace of London and country, who aren't characters per se, but there is a reason for it in the novel. It's a little more difficult that almost no one in the book—including the protagonists—are particularly likable. Except that they are, or come to be.
Oh, I'm so helpful.
Why I couldn't connect to this novel: The plot really seemed to lurid for Sue's and Maud's relationship. I enjoyed reading about how they came to know each other at first (view spoiler)[(without knowing each other at all) (hide spoiler)] and come together again at the end so quietly and honestly.
But the plot itself almost gets in the way, because really, the two women spend very page time together. I didn't mind them being apart (and thinking about each other, because this is a romance) and the time spent in the asylum is very well done, but the end is almost entirely about shedding all the fallout from the rest of the plot aside from the romance. Which, after all the grieving, was a little disconcerting.
In sum, I fell for Sue and Maud and did want them to be happy together. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)