Book Review – The Resurrectionist by James Bradley

Okay where to start overall I really loved this book but it has one flaw which may frustrate some readers.  If you like nice clean endings this is not the book for you.  This was the only negative I had about the book that the reader is left to speculate on the characters fates but I will come back to this shortly.

As the book is divided into three parts discussing them in turn seems as good away as any to start.
Part one introduces the majority of the characters who will appear throughout the book.  The characters are excellent representations of their respective classes as they would have been in this historical period.  The subject, that of the resurrectionist or body thief is viewed very much from the perspective of the learned man in this first part.  The desire for knowledge at any cost, evident as bodies are traded as commodities for the greater good of man kind.  But it also looks at the seedier side of life where the body is sold as a commodity by the living.  The choices individuals make are not always motivated by greed but by necessity be that financial or due to social pressure but the consequences are what bring this story to life.  Nothing is said implicitly you as the reader are left to piece the information together and speculate as to where your assumptions are correct.  In some stories this may be frustrating but in this case rather it draws you in and you become a conspirator to the secrets the characters possess.

The second part is much darker dealing with the fall from grace into a life of addiction and desperation.  It examines the grim realities of where the bodies acquired by the physicians in the first part really come from. It also examines the ideas around how the human psyche can adapt to situations that they would normally abhor.  How quickly one person can descend into the depths of addiction and find them selves not only condoning but participating in the most heinous acts.

The third part is more complex.  I will admit that the start of the third section threw me completely and it took a little while to figure what had happened.  The whole pace of the novel changes at this point.  Also the change in the linear directionality take a huge swerve here. To this point the story has unfurled in a fluid time-line which at the start of part three ends abruptly and is replaced by a disjointed sequence of events and reflections.  It should have annoyed me and spoilt the book if it had not been so well written.  The novel discusses the past in terms of ‘what cannot be undone’ and speaks much of rebirth.  The questions of whether is is possible to escape the past is a prophetic one.  Is it the man or circumstances which shaped his actions? For surely a person may change their location and station in life but can they ever escape their own natures.  And this takes me back to my first point the only possible flaw.  There is no resolution here yet you are not left without knowledge.  If you have immersed yourself in getting to know the characters it is evident where they will end up.  There is an inevitability to their natures which allows you to speculate for yourselves what their eventual fate will be. I think this is a clever ploy be the writer as the characters do not suggest their plights will have happy endings. Rather than spell out the fates which await them you are left with the slim hope that something may intervene to save them from their selves while knowing deep down that it cannot be.  It says a lot about the writing that despite the fact the main character Gabriel commits some of the most heinous acts imaginably you feel for him and want him to save himself or be saved.  I highly recommend this book.

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