A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon

A Man of Shadows

The brilliant, mind-bending return to science fiction by one of its most acclaimed visionariesBelow the neon skies of Dayzone – where the lights never go out, and night has been banished – lowly private eye John Nyquist takes on a teenage runaway case. His quest takes him from Dayzone into the permanent dark of Nocturna.As the vicious, seemingly invisible serial killer kno...

Title:A Man of Shadows
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:085766669X
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:384 pages

A Man of Shadows Reviews

  • Gary

    3.5 stars.

    A former professor of mine was fond of saying that great art is not merely engaged with, but surrendered to. That particular quality of experience – the willing submission of the viewer to the mastery of the art object itself – is hard to nail down in words; so then, is the absence of that quality. This, in a nutshell, is the ambition of the critic – to find the words to relate that experience, or lack thereof (or the gray in between) to other potential consumers of said object.

    Jeff No

    3.5 stars.

    A former professor of mine was fond of saying that great art is not merely engaged with, but surrendered to. That particular quality of experience – the willing submission of the viewer to the mastery of the art object itself – is hard to nail down in words; so then, is the absence of that quality. This, in a nutshell, is the ambition of the critic – to find the words to relate that experience, or lack thereof (or the gray in between) to other potential consumers of said object.

    Jeff Noon’s A Man of Shadows is undeniably a work of art, and an engaging one. Expressionistic in style, though post-modern in flavor, it often feels more like a painting than a novel: confined to its subjective space but bleeding out from its boundaries and edges, willing you to look for more than it can display. Like all art objects it asks for your surrender; like many it falls just short of obtaining it.

    Though Noon is not usually associated with the movement known as the New Weird, A Man of Shadows, with its hybridized genres and skewed realities, fits the mold. The novel is set in some (future? Sideways?) version of our world, where the city of Dayzone exists in the perpetual light of an artificial neon sky, and the nearby city of Nocturna is shrouded in permanent darkness. Because the natural criteria for measuring time (the earth’s rotation and orbit around the sun) has essentially been banished from the two cities, everyone basically lives in their own personal timeline. In between the two cities is the shadowy (and gradually expanding) land known as Dusk, where strange people with terrifying abilities reside.

    The story follows private detective John Nyquist, hired to find a young runaway heiress named Eleanor Bale. Eleanor’s case appears to be connected to a serial killer known as Quicksilver, who can somehow commit his murders is plain view of spectators without being seen. Nyquist becomes obsessed with protecting (or possibly killing) Eleanor, and with unmasking the enigmatic, and probably Dusk-born, Quicksilver. In the canon of fictional detectives, Nyquist is more Hammer than Holmes (or, more persistent than clever), and as a mystery it is one of those novels that plays coy with its biggest secrets until the villain is unmasked and willingly spills the beans.

    Nearly every aspect of the book is immersed in Nyquist’s emotional reality. It is even suggested at one point that Dusk itself is “conjured from his own inner landscape.” I found it curious that, despite the highly subjective emotional expressionism shrouding Nyquist, I never really connected with him on a personal level. His motivations spring from a murky web of unconscious drives and pseudo-Freudian anxieties rather than anything tangibly associated with the quest he is set on.

    If the world of the novel really is just an exegesis of Nyquist’s own mind, this would be the most intellectually honest rabbit hole for the author to tumble down, and as a result the book is way more head than heart. So, while it may have gotten into my skull, it never got under my skin. A Man of Shadows is still an art piece worthy of admiration, if not exhalation.

    Thanks to Netgalley and Angry Robot for providing me with this ARC.

  • Mike

    I think this book suffered both from my misplaced expectations and a poor handling of genres.

    In the first case what I expected to read and what the book actually contained were rather different. Based on the description I expected a detective/noir story set in a city with one part in permanent light and the other in permanent darkness. I thought this was a cool idea and would play well into the idea of a literal dark side of a city that is metaphorically prevalent in the noir genre. There is lot

    I think this book suffered both from my misplaced expectations and a poor handling of genres.

    In the first case what I expected to read and what the book actually contained were rather different. Based on the description I expected a detective/noir story set in a city with one part in permanent light and the other in permanent darkness. I thought this was a cool idea and would play well into the idea of a literal dark side of a city that is metaphorically prevalent in the noir genre. There is lots of space in this setting to work within the noir genre and push its boundaries in cool, innovative ways.

    Instead of a gritty noir mystery this book contained a good deal of magical realism, a genre I am discovering I really just don't care for. Instead of a down on his luck gumshoe trying to track down a killer and save a girl (hallmarks of noir) in a realistic, if somewhat, fantastical setting I was instead presented with a magical dreamlike setting in Dusk (the growing area between the Dayzone and Nightzone of the city) where strange things happen can and do happen and where some sort of magic exists. Very little of this phenomenon is explained (thanks a lot magical realism!) and I am expected to just accept it for what the author tells me it is.

    This is not a thing I can do.

    If a book wants to present me some fantastical setting there is only so much I will accept as a premise. Half the city is bathed in a constant bright light while the other half is permanently shrouded in darkness? Sure, I can go along with that conceit for the basis of a story. But these conditions were explained and slightly explored with physical explanations given to how the city achieved this condition. Dusk (and the true driving force of the story) is left completely unexplained and takes A LOT of liberties with how reality works. There is no explanation given to why it is the way it is or behaves the way it does yet the book expected to just smile and nod at all the strange things happening. I didn't find Dusk interesting or engaging enough for me to ignore its lack of credibility.

    The mixing of these two genres led to the second major problem I had with the book in that I felt that neither genre was effectively handled creating both a bad noir and a bad magical realism story at the same time.

    On the noir front I think the biggest stumble was with the character of Nyquist. There were many aspects of this book that hit some of the high points of the genre: powerful men above the law with a shadowy agenda, family secrets that link to the wider mystery, a down on his luck gumshoe with a drinking problem who falls to far into a case, dames, etc. But where this aspect of the book stumbled was failing to deliver a suitable arc for Nyquist that made all other aspects of the genre nothing more than window dressing.

    Basically the entire story is of Nyquist falling harder and harder into a terrible state, be it drinking, obsession with the case and the girl in question, or time screwing up his perception to name a few. We don't get a feel for what Nyquist is like before we see him with his descent already underway so there is no baseline to compare his state to. We get some vague hints about his past but nothing that fixes in our minds what Nyquist in a good state is to contrast with how far he has fallen. Further he doesn't seem to do anything particularly smart or unexpected, he seems to be rushed forward by events instead of being proactive about figuring things out. I didn't get the sense that he was worth much as a detective which made it difficult for me to care about what he was doing. In the end this book failed on the noir front because it did not properly frame the main character in a way that allowed the reader to put him in the proper context.

    On the magical realism front, well, maybe it's that I just don't like the genre. I prefer my fantasy to be somewhat explained and not forced to accept it as is. For instance, in Lord of the Rings we are told why Sauron wanted the ring and why it was important. Not everything has to be explained (like why are there giant eagles? There just are, accept it as a small part of the story and move on) but the important things, the things that drive the entire plot of the book and exist in an otherwise realistic and rational world, need to be explained or else the story doesn't make any sense.

    Why did Dusk exist and why was it so different form the rest of reality? This is never explained but in a world with at least an understanding and appreciation of science and the ability to

    I would have expected A LOT more interest shown in studying Dusk since it was also a threat to said city. The fact that it is just treated as this thing that is out there and dangerous and no one seems to pay it any mind save for avoiding it struck me as completely unbelievable. Compound that with unexplained magic in an otherwise realistic world and the story really suffers in my eyes.

    It would be one thing if Dusk was a minor part of the plot and its inexplicable presence and characteristics remained relatively sequestered from the main storyline but the last third of the book directly dealt with it and its consequences. The story put the poorly explained fantasy center stage and expected it to hold the weight of the narrative. This it could not do and each successive page added further to the amount of material the reader just had to accept instead of building on past explanations or reasonable foundations. By the end I begrudgingly accepted what the story offered just so I could get to the end of the book. This poorly realized magic realism aspect of the book collapsed under the spotlight and dragged the story down with it.

    Now there were some interesting aspects of the book: the idea of people buying and living on different timelines, the dichotomy of the city and all the consequences of that, the neighborhoods within the different city spaces were neat and interesting. But the heart of the book, the fusing of noir and magical realism, was just a poorly executed mess and wasted so much potential of the setting and the story. So really your enjoyment (or lack there of) for this book will come down to how you view genre conventions because I could see how some readers could really enjoy the book. It just didn't work for me.

    It did have a cool cover though...

  • Liz Barnsley

    I really will never look at time passing in the same way again.

    Sometimes a book comes along that just ticks every box in the “things I love about reading” stakes – A Man of Shadows is such a novel, so incredibly immersive, such brilliantly incisive descriptive prose and a set of fascinating, beautifully imagined characters – that you just dive into it with abandon and leave the real world behind.

    A Man of Shadows has a decisively built world, a world of literal light dark and shade, where time is

    I really will never look at time passing in the same way again.

    Sometimes a book comes along that just ticks every box in the “things I love about reading” stakes – A Man of Shadows is such a novel, so incredibly immersive, such brilliantly incisive descriptive prose and a set of fascinating, beautifully imagined characters – that you just dive into it with abandon and leave the real world behind.

    A Man of Shadows has a decisively built world, a world of literal light dark and shade, where time is of the essence and the residents live with a kind of permanent jetlag as they jump between one timepiece and another. Into this strangely authentic place we find John Nvquist, Private Eye, damaged individual, hunting for a missing teenager and becoming entangled in a dark and dangerous web.

    He is quintessentially of the 1940’s, the wonderful noir feel the author brings to proceedings is quite simply incredible considering the scifi setting and the increasingly bizarre yet compelling narrative – the dialogue is of another age yet sparkles against the advanced backdrop, all the way through this strange beauty echoes in your mind, you do live it and breathe it.

    A Man of Shadows is a heady mix of science fiction, old school detective noir, horror and thriller – I was almost literally holding my breath as the final moments unfolded and I have no doubt there are some surreal dusk fuelled dreams awaiting me when I sleep tonight – I almost welcome them, so much did I enjoy this one that despite the dark nature of it I’d love to return. Oh look – this is John Nvquist 1 apparently – so I guess I should be careful what I wish for.

    Surreal, dazzling, unusual and extraordinary – A Man Of Shadows will haunt you for a long time after turning that last page.

    “You can walk away from events but not from your own darkness”

    Highly Recommended.


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