My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: I wasn’t that impressed with “Insomnia,” despite some pretty awesome aspects that were peppered into the story. My primary problem was the protagonist Parker – usually I don’t mind unreliable narrators if I can sympathize/empathize with them, but Parker irritated me more times than not. The writing in this didn’t really support the storyline that well either, having one too many holes and some expansions that were difficult to buy for me. And I couldn’t get the Al Pacino/Robin Williams movie of the same name out of my head while reading this. Hopefully I can go into more detail about it in the full review.
“Insomnia,” J.R. Johansson’s first novel in “The Night Walkers” series, should’ve been a book that I loved to bits. It had everything that I would appreciate in a story depending on the depicted elements – an unreliable narrator, a chance to explore horrors in a dreamscape environment, an overarching mystery in a supernatural environment. But…there’s no easy way for me to say it other than I thought Parker was a *terrible* character to follow. It was very difficult to like him, let alone sympathize with him.
The story revolves around Parker’s problem of not being able to dream for 4 years time. He doesn’t dream or get restful sleep because, simply by making eye contact with the last person he sees, he can delve into their dreams. It’s a pretty cool, but annoying concept as we figure Parker doesn’t like the measure at all – he hates being sucked in and worse yet, it’s taking a toll on his health.
Enter Mia. Mia’s not a big part of the picture, at first. She meets Parker after a rather odd run-in at night, but Parker realizes in his dreams the night following his encounter with Mia that he sleeps. His dreams are peaceful and bring him a calm he hasn’t known for four years. Thus, begins the
obsessive stalking quest for Parker to figure out why Mia provides him this calm and be around her just so that he can get some measure of relief from his condition.
Of course, this backfires because he
is self-centered, needy, and a jerk creeps out everybody around him for his stalker-esque tendencies towards Mia. It doesn’t help when there’s someone who’s actually stalking Mia and everyone believes Parker’s the culprit. Parker starts to doubt his own innocence when he blanks out and can’t remember much about his activities when people call him out on it.
There are more plotholes and odd turns of this story than a little bit that I could cover, but to give the long and short of it – this was a difficult story to like. Especially considering Parker has very little regard for the people around him. He punches his best friend (who somehow forgives him quickly once Parker reveals his secret condition), he turns on his mother faster than dropping a hot potato, he follows Mia relentlessly and it’s way too creepy to watch his obsession with her as it unfolds. I got pieces of his guilt on the latter, but it wasn’t enough to counter it being just…meh. =/ The part of it I do give credit to was how you don’t really know who the culprit behind all of the threats are until the last possible moment.
I’m not entirely sure if I’m interested enough to see where this series goes, but I didn’t feel invested enough in the overarching story and characterizations here. It’s purported to be a decent supernatural mystery/horror, but I just didn’t see it here – I was more annoyed than thrilled or struck with suspense. I’ll say on an end note that it sort of reminded me of “Insomnia” – the 2002 remake movie (I honestly didn’t know it was a remake) with Al Pacino and Robin Williams, in that the main character (Pacino) is plagued with insomnia and keeps on with this guilty lie he keeps up, but ultimately it follows him in every action he does. Robin Williams plays the bad guy. Granted, that movie is very different in plot and sequence, but I got deja-vu in places with this story even with the movie being non-supernatural while this one was.
Ah well, random tangent. In sum, I think I’ll sit on my hands and wait to see what the next book offers. This I can’t recommend strongly because the unreliable narrator isn’t strong and very hard to follow, the plot details have too many holes, and it’s underdeveloped and not well done despite the intrigue of the idea it follows.
Overall score: 1.5/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Flux.