Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes

The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes is a very odd book. I don't say that in a bad way, but just to prepare you for what is to come.

For the first part, I felt much like the man in the Monty Python skit with the dead parrot. If you don't happen to know this skit, the essence of it is that a man comes to a pet store and tries to convince the owner that a parrot is dead. The owner is adamant that this is not the case, coming up with nonsensical counter arguments to everything the man says.

Well, what does this have to do with Domino Men? Remember I said the book was odd.

This novel is told in the form of a journal written mostly by a major player after the grand event has occurred. However, despite that framework, the narrative follows the story (with the exception of snarky asides from a secondary voice) chronologically. It begins with an innocent and ignorant character, Henry Lamb, who is drawn into a situation so bizarre as to be beyond comprehension. Like the man in the parrot skit, he can not understand how these people can state things as true that absolutely must be considered mad by anyone with a reasonable grasp of reality.

Suffice it to say that his perspective changes, and ours along with him.

This is the strangest form of an unreliable narrator that I've ever run across, but at the same time, it's so compelling that I couldn't step away. I had to keep reading, first to discover if he could figure out how to convince them of their insanity, then to learn how he manages now that he realizes the world is indeed flat and the round form (metaphor to avoid spoilers) is just a cultural delusion.

And when I decided the narrative would finally straighten out into a semblance of normality, in comes the crown prince and a second narrator intruding on Henry Lamb's tale with the offer of another ignorant innocent to reveal the other half of this war they're in the middle of. And if you think that constitutes a spoiler, you're out to be surprised, because honestly I can't believe you'd guess the nature of the events from that little word.

But what really gets me about this book is that in a crazy, incredible way, it also supports the complicated narrative I love. Okay, the ending makes sense but wasn't foreshadowed as much as I might have liked, but the proverbial gun on the mantelpiece of supposedly random elements in the book do end up gathering meaning, the plot seeds are there and recognizable if you have a quick eye, but usually require two to three pieces before they come clear, and there's character growth and change.

This is not a pure fluff, toss down, cotton candy book. It's more complex than that. But it definitely offers a tangled, fascinating, crazy, and very Monte Python read for those willing to delve between the covers.

Note: I read this book as part of Eos Books' Early Reader program, but I'll keep my eye out for his first book, The Somnambulist. I think this is, hands down, the strangest book review I've written yet, and that just goes to show you how compelling the book is. It's seeped into my pores.

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