1/07/2011. Contributed by Sue Davies
pub: Canongate Books Ltd. 502 page paperback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-184767-169-1.
check out website: www.canongate.net
A man with a broken childhood, a gross attitude to life but a beautiful face and body is hideously scarred in a car accident and only then starts to live.
The unnamed narrator is a pornographer, a coke addict and from a home where the next fix was the most important event of the day. He escapes before he can be exchanged for crack but chooses to sell his body into the skin trade of porn films. He spends a long time building up his thick skin but it is all burned away. Outwardly beautiful, he knows he is already damned and only copious amounts of drugs keep the pain away and that’s before the accident.
Waking up in hospital, he is confronted with his outwardly monstrous appearance and starts to meet the people who will transform his life. One of them is the sculptor Marianne Engel, a woman who claims to have lived an incredibly long time and to have known him before, perhaps in another life. She starts to tell him a series of stories offering some kind of redemption and perhaps a reason to live.
From the descriptions of burned flesh and the intense rehabilitation treatment, this is not for the faint-hearted. It does have purpose though and it is not there so much to shock as to explain. It is not an easy read but this honesty and clarity gives a deeper resonance to the enveloping stories. If nothing else, it will make you grateful you can walk down the street in relative anonymity.
With contrasting tales from history and up to the minute surgical and medical technique, this is a fascinating book. There is nothing I have read recently that I could compare it to. These stories, like the ‘1001 Nights’ they echo, are to bring light back into a life that has been shrouded in darkness.
With haunting elements of magic, fantasy and modern life, this is a memorable novel. I have rarely read a book that still has me still thinking about it days later. Unlike many stories this also concentrates on the character to produce the plot rather than the other way round. The contrast of the hideous injuries and outpouring of love into the stories makes this a book I struggled to put down. Perhaps it might seem too much for some but I liked it because it wasn’t afraid to throw itself into the fantasy without relying on that to make everything better.
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