Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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The Resurrectionist, James Bradley

"Such a small thing, to take a life."

I should have stopped reading, right there, but it was page 227, and I had gone so far. There was only one hundred and eight pages left.

The book in question here is James Bradley's latest book, the Resurrectionist, which was published last year. Bradley, a Sydney based author, has a pretty solid reputation based off his previous novels, Wrack and the Deep Field, neither of which I've read, and neither which, I believe, are in print anymore (at any rate, I haven't seen them around), so when I saw the Ressurectionist, I thought here was a good chance to see what the deal was. The first page looked promising: it detailed bodies in a sack, being delivered to an nineteenth century surgeon, illegally, of course, for study. The back of the book promised me body snatching, early surgeons, and colonial Australia, all of which neatly slide into areas of interest for me, and so I paid my twenty bucks.

The problem with the Resurrectionist is that, like that line about taking a life, it's ill thought out, poorly presented, and feels half written, as if Bradley vomited it out and then could not be bothered rewriting. Such a line as that above, said in any book, should immediately cause alarm bells to any reader, especially since the lives that are taken end up influencing the narrator for the rest of the book, and prove, of course, that taking a life is not such a small thing (as any reader will no doubt be able to guess the moment they read the line). It's not that the narrator cannot have a change of opinion; or that he lies to himself; or that it is a slowly dawning realisation of what he has done; it's that that line is just such a played out, overly dramatic moment, taken from a bad Hollywood film in which the villain sits there and says, "It's such a small thing, to take a life. You take one, then two, and suddenly, you're Jack the Bloody Fucking Ripper, and you and your opium addiction have no fucking problems."

Yes, the narrator has an opium addiction. He is also called Gabriel--you know, like the Angel of Death, who is sometimes called Gabriel. The subtly makes me want to reach for the opium.

Where Bradley's book does work, however, is in the details that surround his narrator's work as a surgeon's apprentice and, later, body snatching. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of either in the book, as the narrator's opium addiction and his obsession with an actress/prostitute and, finally, the murders he commits, take up the majority of the work. The problem here, is that each of these aspects of the book are shallow: the character's opium addiction is so slight that you could be forgiven for thinking that it's simply something he enjoys after a night of body snatching, rather like a beer, and this is aided by the fact that his addiction disappears in the final portion of the book. Granted, nine years have passed, but there is not even the mention of withdrawal symptoms. (At this point, Bradley is trying the convince us that he has killed Gabriel and replaced him with a new narrator, but given that both are told from a first person point of view, and both sound exactly alike, it's nothing but a frustrating and pointless diversion. When the mystery is revealed to everyone by the very convenient arrival of an old friend, you'll be pawing through the white pages, looking for Bradley's number so you can ring up and say, "So, like, after showing no interest in his friend while he's murdering and addicted, nine years pass, and suddenly he's like, 'Oh, a man can draw in the colonies? That must be my long lost friend, whom after he was fired, I had nothing to do with. Of course I must seek him out!'") Likewise, the relationship between Gabriel and Arabella is poorly portrayed, and while it just lags and falls off, as a relationship might in real life, when coupled by Bradley's inattention to so much else in the book, you can't help but think that it is another sign of a bad writing...

I could go on, really, but I'll spare you.

That I think the Resurrectionist is a bad novel shouldn't be difficult to see, but that I think it's a bad novel on nearly every aspect--it's just badly written, with such lines as 'a week passes, slipping by like water' that pass for limp and uninteresting imagery--and yet has gained critical praise suggests that other people disagree and you ought to take that into account. However, I cannot recommend cash on this, and I cannot recommend time. As I've discovered, the time and cash do not return to you and nor does your youth, and none of us are getting by sitting richer or younger by sitting and reading bad books.

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