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The Horned Man    by James Lasdun order for
Horned Man
by James Lasdun
Order:  USA  Can
W. W. Norton, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

Wow. I mean ... wow. The dust jacket tells me this is Lasdun's first novel, but I'm finding that very hard to believe. I know he's published a few short-story collections, and some poetry, he's not totally without experience, but still: can a first novel really be this good?

Here's the setup: Lawrence Miller, professor of gender studies at a New York university, takes down a book of the shelf in the office he's recently inherited from a colleague who passed away. He leafs through it, marks his page, and when he returns to the book later to continue his leafing he finds his marker has moved, has relocated itself to another part of the book. So begins a series of strange little occurrences that lead Miller deep into what appears to be a conspiracy to frame him for murder.

Who was the recently-deceased colleague, and why did she die? Who is the recently-disgraced professor who - it seems - may be lurking in the shadows of Miller's office, even while Miller's there? Who is the fellow-professor who seems to have developed an inexplicable affection for Miller, and what's she up to? Who's trying to destroy Miller's life ... and can he find them before they succeed?

This is, I have to tell you, a very weird novel. Wonderful ... but weird. Narrated in the first person by Miller, it soon takes on a surreal quality, as we see the world through the professor's eyes, as we wonder whether he might be, just a little, well, crazy. It's an unsettling experience to read a novel in which you can't trust anything you see or hear, because the person who's telling the story may not be, shall we say, entirely reliable. Does Miller's seemingly-amorous colleague really have a thing for him, or is his imagination running in overdrive? Could there really be someone breaking into Miller's office and rearranging his stuff? We can't help wondering: are we joining this hapless fellow in his web of hallucinations?

I'm not gonna tell you how it all turns out. In fact, I'm not gonna say anything else at all, except this: buy this novel, and read it now.

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