Friday, May 3, 2013

Review: The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Philadelphia, the late 1870s. A city of gas lamps, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages—and home to the controversial surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a grave robber, young Dr. Black studies at Philadelphia’s esteemed Academy of Medicine, where he develops an unconventional hypothesis: What if the world’s most celebrated mythological beasts—mermaids, minotaurs, and satyrs—were in fact the evolutionary ancestors of humankind? 

The Resurrectionist offers two extraordinary books in one. The first is a fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black, from a childhood spent exhuming corpses through his medical training, his travels with carnivals, and the mysterious disappearance at the end of his life. The second book is Black’s magnum opus: The Codex Extinct Animalia, aGray’s Anatomy for mythological beasts—dragons, centaurs, Pegasus, Cerberus—all rendered in meticulously detailed anatomical illustrations. You need only look at these images to realize they are the work of a madman. The Resurrectionist tells his story.

And here's what I thought:  Dark and delicious.  That may sound odd. but this book was the perfect combination of beautiful writing and dark subject matter that made me savor every page.  

Now, that's not to say that there are parts of this book that aren't a bit disturbing.  Some of the descriptions of Dr. Black's experiments aren't for squeamish readers (and I will admit that a few times, I skimmed ahead slightly because of this).   However, as much as I was repelled by Black at times, I felt compelled to keep reading.  I suppose I was curious to see what he would do next, as he apparently was descending into madness as time went on.

I felt the author did a nice job of combining historically accurate elements, such as some of the attitudes in the medical community during the nineteenth century, along with fantastical creatures.  Black's decision to join a carnival, with his "Anatomical Museum" is also in keeping with that time period.  he writing style is also interesting --- the story of Dr. Black is told as if by a researcher, who has come upon Black's papers and research.  It lends an outsider point of view, which I liked.  Something else that's really cool about this book is that the second half is filled with detailed drawings of creatures such as harpies and mermaids.  I found myself poring over these, marveling at all the intricate detailing and labeling ---- and then wondering about this Dr. Black and the lengths he would have had to go through to make such illustrations.

While I don't think this book will appeal to all readers, if darker fiction (and perhaps, even TV shows like CSI or Hannibal) appeals to you, you'll most likely find it a good read.  I enjoyed this book, and was very grateful to receive a copy for my review (thank you!!).  I've had this book on order for my library's collection, and had been eagerly anticipating it hitting the shelves, so it was a treat to see it ahead of time.   

First lines:  Dr. Spencer Black and his older brother, Bernard, were born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1851 and 1848, respectively.  They were the sons of the renowned surgeon Gregory Black.  Their mother, Meredith Black, died while delivering Spender; her passing caused a great unrest in both boys throughout their childhood.


Angela's Anxious Life said...

I keep seeing this book around.. I need to pick it up. It seems like it is my type of book!


Tabitha (Pabkins) said...

I am not a squeamish reader and I love the idea or dark and delicious! Plus those pictures i saw some of the illustrations on another blog -they just look so awesome! I can't wait to read it!

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