Book Reviews · Monday Musings

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.

Questioning the World · So it's Saturday

Reflecting On the Past

It seems fitting that tonight on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the titanic my thoughts should be reflecting on the past.  Those small decisions made be indivduals which shape the lives of those around them.  It is ironic as I sit here dwelling on the past that I am actually watching The Matrix a film based on the future where the human race (aside from the few outsiders) have no power to make any choices.  This train of thinking was not only sparked by the anniversary of the tragic loss of life a hundred years ago but also the book I am reading The Resurrectionist
by James Bradley.  This thought provoking novel looks at the profession of the anatomists and bodysnatchers whose trade modern medicine has much to thank for.

Although one could never condone the idea of loved ones being dragged from their graves to be dissected on a cold hard slab, the contribution they made to the understanding of the human body cannot be denied.  The decisions these people made to break the laws for their various reasons has directly impacted all our lives.  Would things have changed and would be where are if they had not we will never know.  Although I am writing medieval fantasy, history fascinates me.  Maybe the reason I write fantasy rather than historical fiction is at the minute I lack the skills to do the history justice, and maybe the patience for all the research required.

Unless someone some day invents a time machine the nearest any of us will get to the past is through books.  I believe that a good book be it a textbook or fiction can make you experience a place in a way no picture or film ever can.  The film or documentary can show you what it was like, They can tell you how it was but a good book engages all the senses.  It can make you smell the air, in the case of the book I am reading the stench of slowly decaying bodies, the smell in the crowded ginshops.  It cam make you imagine the taste of the opium on your tongue, as well as see the world they are depicting. but more than that they draw you into that world to understand not only what the little choices were but why they had to be.  A writer is compelled to write, even if it is only for their own persual,  Once upon a time writing was the providence of the elite, the majority excluded from reading or writing. I know from my family tree I would certainly have fallen into the class denied the opportunity to read.  But the real question is this if I had never read a book would this imagination still be swirling round my head looking for an outlet?  Would I have had the urge to illicitally learn my letters and go against society? Would my creativity take a different path equally reprehensible to society and have found me on the stage, courting any ‘gentleman’ for a few coins?  Throughout history others have made the decisions to go against what was acceptable to give us the chance to do what we love.  But more than that a there are the many individuals whose actions have inspired our thoughts, shaped our stories, and helped create our characters.  They have left behind a legacy through those written words which allows us a glimpse into their worlds and for that I will be forever grateful.  Even in the simplest words we share with others we share a part of ourselves. So what are your thoughts could they writers out there have stopped writing because society forbade it?  Is there any example of where history directly inspired you?