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Horned Man [Hardcover]

James Lasdun
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 25 2002
The Horned Man opens with a man losing his place in a book, then deepens into a dark and terrifying tale of a man losing his place in the world. As Lawrence Miller—an English expatriate and professor of gender studies—tells the story of what appears to be an elaborate conspiracy to frame him for a series of brutal killings, we descend into a world of subtly deceptive appearances where persecutor and victim continually shift roles, where paranoia assumes an air of calm rationality, and where enlightenment itself casts a darkness in which the most nightmarish acts occur. As the novel races to its shocking conclusion, we follow Miller as he traverses the streets of Manhattan and the decaying suburbs beyond, in terrified pursuit of his pursuers. Written with sinuous grace and intellectual acuity, The Horned Man is an extraordinary, unforgettable first novel by an acclaimed writer and poet of unusual power.

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From Amazon

Penzler Pick, April 2002: Already a sensation in his native England, this first novel by expatriate James Lasdun is one of the most disturbing and compelling books you are likely to read this year.

The protagonist, Lawrence Miller, is himself an expat teaching gender studies at a small college located just outside New York City. He is a member of the sexual harassment committee which meets on a regular basis to walk that fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous of political correctness.

Miller's well-ordered life starts to disintegrate one day when he takes a book from the shelf in his office to find that the bookmark has been moved several pages although, as far as he knows, nobody has visited his office. An easily explained lapse of memory perhaps, but Miller decides he will discuss it with the therapist he has been seeing in Manhattan since his wife left him. He is shocked as he approaches her office to see the therapist walking towards him, but she turns off towards Central Park before he can speak to her and he then loses sight of her. When he arrives at her office, however, she is waiting for him as usual and assures him that she has not left her office; in fact, she is always with another patient before Miller's appointment.

So begins the disorientation of Lawrence Miller. He has his little obsessions, of course--he won't pick up the messages on his answering machine, for instance, in order to convince himself that while he was out his wife tried to call him. Still in love with her, he hopes that she will call and want to return to him. But this is just a game he plays, part of his very human nature. He is in no way the sort of man who is paranoid or imagines conspiracies, but the unexplained incidents seem to be increasing.

Miller tries to rationalize what is happening, but he can't help thinking, nor can we, that he has become the target of somebody who wishes him harm. And when a series of murders takes place, Miller begins to suspect that he is being set up to take the blame for these murders by a devious and diabolical mind.

Lawrence Miller struggles to loosen the hold his pursuers have on him, but the more he struggles the more he appears to be drowning. Try to sleep after reading his terrifying story. --Otto Penzler

From Publishers Weekly

A lonely, eccentric New York academic discovers his office is also home to a deranged squatter in this startling, brilliantly mysterious debut novel by poet and short story writer Lasdun. Alerted by misplaced bookmarks, deleted computer files and a dirty bed sheet under his desk, Brit Lawrence Miller, a professor of gender studies at Arthur Clay College, becomes convinced that a stranger is camping out nightly in his office. Though preoccupied by his wife's recent decampment and his membership on the college's sexual harassment committee, Lawrence fixates on the illustrious Professor Trumilcik, an Eastern European womanizer and ex-board member, who went mad on campus one afternoon and never returned. Could he be the uninvited guest? The shocking news that several area women have been found brutally beaten to death heightens Lawrence's hysteria. Erratic behavior ruins a date with Elaine, the school attorney, and confuses his relationship with his therapist. When a heavy metal pipe falls out of his briefcase, Lawrence has to wonder: could this be the weapon used in the killings? As reality slips and slides, Lawrence, in full paranoia mode, comes to believe that Trumilcik is framing him for the murders. References to the works of Kafka and to mystical pharmacology add depth and insight, though a few key tense moments are squelched by lengthy exposition of the protagonist's compulsivethought processes. Introspective readers with a taste for the bizarre will appreciate Lasdun's eerily elusiveconclusion, but those seeking definitive closure will be left scratching their heads. Rights sold in France, Germany, Holland, Italy and the U.K.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
One afternoon earlier this winter, in a moment of idle curiosity, I took a book from the shelf in my office and began reading it where it fell open on a piece of compressed tissue that had evidently been used as a bookmark. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Very odd! April 19 2004
Like one of the other reviewers of this book, I was also "left scratching my head"! I found that I was drawn in at the beginning but as the story wore on I was hoping more and more that the end would provide some clarification as to what exactly the story was about. Not quite the page turner I was expecting and I found by the time I reached the end I was baffled and unsatisfied. I didn't like the story but it was beautifully written.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Does this mean he won't get tenure? Sept. 2 2003
I think that this book is considerably overrated by the reviewers. I read it complete in about four hours. The initial setup is good, and some of the flashbacks are engrossing -- more engrossing, in fact, than the main narrative line of the story. There is also a fine description of political- correctness-induced paranoia and continual self-monitoring for unconscious violations; that issue would have been a better subject for the whole story, but it becomes less and less relevant as the story progresses.
I believe that fully a third of the text, consisting of repetitive ruminations and descriptions of his mood, could have been omitted without loss, indeed it would have improved the pacing of the story. The book is told entirely from the narrator's physical viewpoint. None of the other characters have depth or dimension to them -- they are there simply as plot devices.
The flavor of the narrative is consciously Kafkaesque (helpfully pointed out by a subplot involving a stage production of a Kafka story). It could have used a healthy dose of Dostoyevsky, that is, the story would have been much more dimensional if the narrator had any awareness or conscious purpose in his conduct.
Other novels of academia that I would recommend: The Blue Angel, by Francis Prose, is a better satire of academia's infestation by political correctness and resulting paranoia. For a hilarious account of academic personalities and politics, nothing tops Richard Russo's Straight Man. For the mind of the criminal -- see Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov, who was, after all, a student.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Odd Aug. 21 2003
By ra2sky
It's hard to describe this book. The writing is terrific and the main character is disturbingly well described. However, I had a hard time finishing this book...I guess I didn't find the plot very compelling. Or maybe I wasn't reading closely enough because there were a couple of plot turns that left me scratching my head. This is not a book to zip through. But the writing is superb.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Far from your ordinary suspense thriller June 26 2003
By Eugene
This book is a piece of literature masquerading as a thriller. The mystery surrounds Lawrence Miller and his connections to the disappearance of several women to whom he finds himself connected throughout the novel. To say that this is what the book is about would be to shortchange Lasdun's efforts here. The greater theme underlying the book is ambiguity and perception.
All in all, if you're looking for a satisfying whodunnit where the villain unveils his scheme in the penultimate scene, then move right along. This book isn't for you. However, if you appreciate smart writing and character studies and the duplicity of perception, then chances are you'll appreciate this book.
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By A Customer
After reading this fantastic novel, it should come as no surprise that James Lasdun won a Best Screenplay prize at Sundance some years ago, for "The Horned Man" (HM) is cinematic if nothing else. The only surprise is that it hasn't - to the best of my knowledge - been optioned for film but if and when that happens, there is no one better to direct the movie than David Lynch, the master of celluloid surrealism.
It is hard to tell if Lawrence Miller is living or hallucinating his nightmare existence. After all, he may not be the most reliable of narrators. He is plagued by self-doubt, the result of an emotionally scarring incident involving his step-sister recalled most colourfully and in great style by Lasdun. His wife has left him and he is seeing a shrink. But we take what we read at face value. Then strange things begin to happen and Lawrence thinks he's losing his mind or there's somebody - a disembodied soul perhaps - occupying his office at night or worse spying on him all the time he's working from a little space under his desk. Lasdun cranks up the spook factor by revealing that the previous (day) occupant of his room died under mysterious circumstances and some of her belongings are still left in the room.
Lasdun then plants evidence suggesting that our invisible stalker may be a shadowy Bulgarian playwright figure whom we never get to meet. From then on, HM starts to pan out like familiar episodes from "Twin Peaks". No, there are no dwarfs but Lawrence starts mistaking a strange exotic woman for the shrink he is seeing, getting drawn almost against his will into a totally unreal relationship with a woman attorney, dressing up in his dead ex-colleague's clothes to follow a lead in his investigations, and trading physical blows with a faceless violent presence.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling and literate creation June 13 2003
By Steven
A beautifully crafted work that first captivates, then challenges the reader. I certainly plan to read it again. Readers that gravitate toward literature will find the story and it's telling richly rewarding and stimulating. Readers looking for more traditional mystery/thrillers may be intrigued or dissapointed.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars What World Are We In?
Lawrence Miller is a professor of Gender Studies at a small New York college. Except for his recent separation from his wife life seemed fairly normal for professor Miller. Read more
Published on June 13 2003 by Bucherwurm
4.0 out of 5 stars What World Are We In?
Lawrence Miller is a professor of Gender Studies at a small New York college. Except for his recent separation from his wife life seemed fairly normal for professor Miller. Read more
Published on June 13 2003 by Bucherwurm
5.0 out of 5 stars A mesmerizing study in duality
Unfortunately, the person who recommended this book to me spilled the entire premise before I even cracked it open, so many suspicions I would have developed as I read the book I... Read more
Published on June 10 2003 by J. Gifford
1.0 out of 5 stars Worst Book I've Read In Years
Mr. Lasdun teaches creative writing. Sometimes that old adage, "Those who can, do; Those who cannot, teach." is true. Read more
Published on June 3 2003 by D. ABRAHAMSEN
I had high hopes for this novel when I first saw it, then read about it - from the inside flap: '(the book) opens with a man losing his place in a book, then deepens into a dark... Read more
Published on May 11 2003 by Larry L. Looney
2.0 out of 5 stars Might give him another chance, but not impressed...
I agree with the previous reviewer, in that I rated this book a 2 rather than a 1 due to the fine writing that kept my interest despite the fact that I could predict the outcome... Read more
Published on Jan. 14 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars Dreamlike story of isolation in the big city
Not a light, breezy reading experience, but definitely worth the little bit of effort and focus it asks of you. Read more
Published on Dec 12 2002 by Joseph P. Menta, Jr.
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