The Horned Man

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The Horned Man, James Lasdun’s first novel, starts off as nothing more than a weird string of coincidences that start working together in unnerving ways. His protagonist, Lawrence Miller, is a professor from England living in New York City who is dealing with being separated from his wife. As he tries to come to grips with his wife leaving him, Lawrence notices that trivial things keep reasserting themselves—bookmarks that are moved without his knowledge, computer files suddenly disappear, et cetera.

As the novel progresses, this pattern starts affecting all the women in Lawrence’s life. Lawrence begins to see a conspiracy evolving, one that becomes darker and more dangerous. He starts to believe that there is someone secretly living in his office, someone who is cruel to women and may even be responsible for murders. What he finally realizes, though, is that all traces seem to come back to himself.

Lasdun’s writing style—literary and educated-sounding, like his main character—is dead on and the reader is involved from the first page. The final outcome of the novel, though, is troubling. On one hand, the ending of the novel is obvious and, therefore, disappointing because of the overall quality of the writing. However, this may be beside the point. Lasdun may be writing this book from the point of view of a character who abuses women and then erases it from his memory—a split personality. The reader is not supposed to sympathize with a character who is mentally unbalanced; the fact that sympathy is possible is perhaps the most unnerving aspect of all.