Hm. Hm. I just don't know. The whole thing just has a general air of eau de litfic writer dabbling in genre and being slightly smug about it, which is an entirely unfair assessment. I think. Based on my multiple picking-up-reading-the-back-then-not-buying incidents with The Somnambulist, it looks like genre-pastichey-mystery-sci-fi-pulp-etc is
Barnes's genre of choice. I'm just left with the feeling that the characters are uncompelling in a distinctly litfic way, and the genre bits are not unique or new or intriguing enough to compensate for the navelgazey whinging.*
Which is such a *shame.* There is so much here I want to like! The set-up: secret society battling the royals in order to prevent unspeakable horror! The juxtaposition of horror the absurd, with the secret society headquartered out of the Eye and pretty much all of the quasi-internal dialogue of Prince Charles, er, Arthur! The ultimate nature of Leviathan! The tv show catchphrase! Unfortunately, it all felt wildly hollow, and the city of London itself was a far more vibrant, compelling character than any of the (mostly) human beings on the page. It was filled with wonderful idea after wonderful idea, cleverly and deftly executed for the most part, but there was no heart
beneath it all.
SPOILERS GO HERE.
And, yes, to some extent this is quasi-explained away in the last few pages: Henry is such a dull, soulless twat because he actually has
had his soul removed, but that revelation comes too late and too obliquely foreshadowed (if at all) to make up for slogging through hundreds of pages of first-person narration from a dull, soulless twat. The revelation of Leviathan as some sort of intergalactic filing company is brilliant
and hilarious, a la Douglas Adams or Red Dwarf, but again, that revelation comes at the very end and just sort of sits there, being funny like a bump on a log and not touching the rest of the swamp.
However, the scene in which there's the big blowout and the leader of the secret society furiously orders everyone to their various jobs, no backtalk, go to it now!, followed by a note about how they had to stand around for ten minutes making small talk and general chitchat because they had to wait for the Eye to rotate back to the ground is genius
and almost enough to raise my opinion of the novel as a whole.
END OF MAJOR, END OF BOOK SPOILERS.
Basically, it kind of felt like a modern version of A Study In Emerald (dear BBC: plz consider doing an episode of the new Sherlock like this, plz plz?), without the actual, soul-crawling horror or lively characters.
Ah. I've pegged it now. Among the various genres it dabbles in (mystery, horror, science fiction, etc), it also does quite a bit of pastiche of the 70s-era spy novel, up to and including the wretched gender roles. And don't forget to throw in my now-quasi-standard bemoaning of how awful
the women are in a horror novel. They're almost farcical enough to make me wonder if Barnes is doing it deliberately (the maiden who is kind of helpless and confusing and there mostly to be lusted after! the crone who is there to provide advice! the, uh, one in the middle who is transformed from dull and unfuckable to super-sexy operative who is powerful and therefore in order to make her less threatening is honest-to-god
"smooth like a doll down there" (because of course one of the guys stuck his hand "down there" to check
). Women are not people in this book, clearly and consistently, and I'm so very tired
*Yes, yes. I disparage literary fiction in the exact same way that some literary fiction fans disparage genre fiction. But, ugh, life is too short to sit through that much internal drama without at least a few alien takeovers and/or secret societies and/or zombie invasions. C'mon, now.