Friday, June 30, 2017

The Somnabulist's Dreams, by Lars Boye Jerlach

Angry Owl, 2016
181 pp

"and the stars look very different today..."

paperback, and a big thanks to the author for my copy

When I first heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. I am fascinated with the use of lighthouses in literature, since they have a sort of ambiguous symbolism to them.  In some books, lighthouses imply safety, while in others they convey a deep sense of isolation.  While I won't say which camp this book falls into,  the back-cover blurb, which barely even hints at what's in store for readers of this book, describes  a New England lighthouse keeper who comes across a collection of "seemingly deranged" writings left behind by his predecessor.

It seems that what Enoch Soule has actually left behind is a collection of his dreams, as he puts it, "the fantasies of my mind, over which I have no control."   And what dreams they are indeed.  It took me no time to discover that not only is this book something very much out of the ordinary, but also that there is nothing straightforward here until the somewhat jaw-dropping ending which puts everything into perspective. In the meantime, as soon as we find ourselves peering into Enoch's dreams, it becomes obvious, once again referring to the back-cover blurb, that we have found ourselves in a "narrative that ... defies time and space."  I won't say how, but trust me, this concept continually manifests itself as the book progresses, and as the dreams of Enoch Soule's become darker and stranger, they start taking on an ethereal quality that is difficult to describe.

this isn't how I pictured the lighthouse keeper of this book,  but it's a cool drawing nonetheless. From the website of the Australian National Maritime Museum

I hate being so vague about this book, but I'm doing it purposely since to give away anything is definitely a crime and would spoil the reading for the next person.   The minor niggle here is word usage ... I had to look up certain words such as "fuliginous," "caliginous," and "sudoriferous" and while I've now enhanced my knowledge of vocabulary, sometimes for me just sticking to what one means in a clearer way is best. Other than that minor issue, though, I was pretty much awed by this book, most especially in terms of the author's  literary and philosophical knowledge which he's put to great use here.

This isn't a book to speed read through.  The author has obviously spent a long time putting it together, combining elements of literature, mythology, pop culture and philosophy here to help shape the narrative, and I found myself feeling elated whenever I'd recognize a reference, since in my head, each served as a clue in my own effort to piece together what is actually going on here.  I will say I got a vague sense of what the ending reveals long before I got there (some of these "clues" are pretty self explanatory),  but I'll also admit that certain recurring/changing symbols got the better of me, causing me to take time to go over them again and again, throwing out some ideas, keeping others.  And then, of course, the element of time is a definite conundrum, one that kept me on my toes trying to puzzle out what the author was doing here.  The point I'm trying to make is that it is a challenging read and a book for serious readers who enjoy thinking.  I was in hog heaven here.

personal note to Lars:
I took down my copy of Conrad's Nostromo thanks to you -- on the summer list it goes.


  1. Might have to give this one a go. I'm a long time lover of Lighthouse stories. :)

    1. Me too. The more isolated the lighthouse the better. It fits well here, trust me. Someone really needs to write a novel using the lighthouse at La Jument, in Brittany.


Say what you will, but do it in a nice way.