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The Electric Michelangelo Paperback – October 11, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hall's mellifluous coming-of-age story about an apprentice tattoo artist from the north coast of England who reinvents himself in Coney Island, N.Y., is picaresque in its sweep and lovely in its lush description. This 2004 Booker Prize finalist, Hall's second novel (after Haweswater) but first U.S. release, follows Cyril Parks from his youth in the 1910s, as he grows up the only son of the widowed proprietor of the Bayview Hotel in Morecambe, through his hard-won apprenticeship to the seedy rogue Eliot Riley, under whose exacting tutelage he becomes a skilled tattoo artist. From his benevolent mother, Reeda Parks, who puts up consumptives at her hotel, he learns not to be disgusted by the spectacle of human misery. (Reeda also performs secret abortions and campaigns for women's suffrage.) Upon Reeda and Riley's deaths, Cy takes off for America and plies his trade among the vibrant array of freak shows at Coney Island. By 1940, he meets a local Russian chess champion, Grace, and during the course of their love affair he inscribes 109 eye tattoos all over her body. Hall's writing is pure joy, especially when describing the childhood seaside shenanigans of Cy and his boy pals.
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From Booklist

Tracing the arc of Cyril Parks' life from a young boy growing up in a ramshackle hotel for consumptives run by his widowed mother in the English seaside town of Morecambe through his emigration to America and back again, Hall paints a lush and sumptuous portrait of a sensitive, solitary man who ekes out an unlikely living as a tattoo artist. As a teenager, Parks learned his trade from Eliot Riley, an abusive loner who virtually kidnapped Parks to be his apprentice. After the deaths of both his mother and Riley, Parks escapes England and the approaching World War, sailing to America where he establishes himself in the bacchanalian world of Coney Island's boardwalk as "The Electric Michelangelo." When an enigmatic young woman hires him for a most bizarre commission, Parks finds himself caught within a maelstrom of emotions and desires unlike any he has ever known. A Man Booker finalist, Hall's sweeping novel explores timeless themes of loss and redemption with an ageless wisdom and grace. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (October 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060817240
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060817244
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,074,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

The story was not only slow but poorly written.
Wendy Kwan
THE ELECTRIC MICHELANGELO by Sarah Hall was a very good character story of the Bildungsroman variety.
John Conner
I would recommend this book as a thought-provoking read.
Calliope

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By J. K. Grice on April 29, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Electric Michelangelo is at once a fascinating study of both character and career. Author Sarah Hall lovingly chronicles the life of tattoo artist Cyril Parks from childhood through later adult life. The novel is set on the norhthern coast of England and later moves to the bawdy atmosphere of Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY. That is where, in the late 1930's, Cyril Parks sets up his tattoo shop and begins his adventures in America.

He eventually meets a woman named Grace, who is a circus performer and also becomes a client of Cyril's. While growing up in England, Cy was primarily influenced by his independent mother, Reeda, as well as his violently disturbed tattooing instructor, Eliot Riley. In the character of Grace, Cyril discovers qualities of both his mother and of Riley. This is a very powerful point of the novel.

Sarah Hall writes some amazing prose, and she infuses humor throughout the story. At times philosophical and symbolic, The Electric Michelangelo has strong, very human characters, and it gives insight into the lives of its inhabitants through the unigue profession of tattooing. The book can be compared to some of the works by John Irving, where we find strong female characters, various points of irony, and offbeat humor surfacing along the way.

This is one of the most original novels I have read this year. Although it is largely narrative, I found myself drawn into the book more and more as the story developed. There was a quiet, unassuming way in which the themes and messages of the book were conveyed. Through Cyril's tattoo artistry, we are shown a unique way of thinking, living, and dealing with the world, based on his art and profession. There is no fluff here. This is a meaty perspective on the human condition using subject matter that I have encountered in no other work. Given the chance, The Electric Michelangelo will lead the reader on a magical, rewarding journey.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By C. Collins on October 16, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall is masterfully written. There are several aspects of the book that I would like to point out.

First, in some ways one of the strenghts to this novel is minimal number of characters, minimal number of cities, and minimal number of intereactions. There are four main characters; Cy, this mother Reeda, his mentor Eliot Riley, and the woman he falls in love with, Grace. The action takes place in two cities; Morecambe England and Coney Island, NYC. Significant dialogue happens in two taverns; the Dog and Pheasant in Morecambe and the Varga on Coney Island. Cyril Parks is loved and protected by a wise mother, Reeda, who runs a boarding house by the sea for TB patients and performs abortions late at night for local girls in trouble. Her emotional stability gives Cy a bedrock of natural compassion and internal resources. She dies of breast cancer and Cy decides to become apprentice to the alcholic Eliot Riley, an angry bitter drunkard who introduces Cy to the profession of tatoo artist. After the death of Eliot, Cy migrates to Coney Island and makes a living on the boardwalk and socializing at the Varga, the local diner for circus and carnival folks. He meets a young angry intelligent beautiful Russian Jewish bareback rider and her horse, Maximus. She is agnostic, skeptical, and obviously has seen much pain and disappointment in her life, which she keeps to herself. Cy loves Grace but her personality is so much stronger than his, that his courtship must be carefully plotted. I will not say more about the straight forward story line since I don't want to ruin the reading experience of others, but the point here is that Hall uses a very minimal approach so as to better explore the few characters and situations she introduces.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bartleby (scrivner) on December 17, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is without a doubt one of the finest novels I have ever read. The writing is pure heaven, the metaphors and similes are creative divinity--where does she get them? She is so highly gifted and so young that she can look forward to a wonderful career and you can be sure that I will follow her progress.

Yes the novel can be heavy going at times but the beauty of her story and her talent as a writer just kept me wanting more and I earmarked so many passages because they were the finest, among the best poetry that I have ever read, her imagination and facility with language is stunning, not to mention the level of research that she did.

A wonderful and rare performance--Bravo!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Calliope on January 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
The Electric Michelangelo is a well-written, thoughtful novel that vividly portrays the places in which it is set. It is the life story of Cyril Parks, who is born and grows up in the English seaside resort Morecambe, raised by his widowed mother. The first third of the book is about his childhood experiences, told as a series of anecdotes (mostly the trouble he gets into with his friends, as well as the discovery that his mother is an illegal abortionist.) Later, he is apprenticed to Eliot Riley, a tatoo artist who is a drunkard and loudmouth. For many years, Cy has a love-hate relationship with Riley, who he reviles but sees as a father-figure. After Eliot's death, Cy sails to America, and sets up his own tatoo parlor, The Electric Michelangelo. The most important events that follow have to do with Cy's relationship with Grace, whose body he covers in eyes.

The book definitely has many strong points. Hall has a gift for describing the more disgusting parts of human nature, so while not easy to read, everything in this story rings sadly true to our minds. The world of Coney Island with its bars, carnivals, and freak shows is brought to life.

However, the story itself does not leave one feeling satisfied. None of the characters are easily likeable, not even Cy. He has moments of revelation about himself that Hall manages to write without seeming preachy, but most of the time he is getting drunk and being unable to rid himself of Riley's ghost in his mnd. Hall also tends to digress about minor character at lengths that are not really necessary.

But despite these flaws, The Electric Michelangelo deserves its Booker Prize shortlist, and in my opinion is a better book than the winner. I would recommend this book as a thought-provoking read.
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