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The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones: A Novel Paperback – March 26, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Tristan Hart’s sadistic tendencies and incipient madness stand in stark contrast to Enlightenment philosophy and the scientific method he supports as a medical student, lending an atmosphere of creeping dread to this coming-of-age story set in Henry Fielding’s eighteenth-century London. American readers unfamiliar with the British bogeyman known as Raw Head and Bloody Bones may not understand the titular reference, though Tristan’s predilection for pain, combined with his forensic experimentation, his unusual obsession with a teenage girl, and the influence of what might very well be his own hallucinatory delusions will make it apparent that this is a monster’s memoir. Wolf’s first novel plays on readers’ fears of death, demons, pain, and insanity while challenging us to question our assumptions about love and sex, joy and grief, and reality itself. A philosophical and grim portrait of a brilliant madman passing as normal, this unusual story compares well with the twisted fairy world in John Connolly’s Book of Lost Things (2011) and Victor Lavalle’s riveting portrait of madness in The Devil in Silver (2012). For stout-hearted readers. --Jen Baker

Review

"Evokes historical fiction such as Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Andrew Miller’s Ingenious Pain, and Peter Ackroyd’s HawksmoorThe Tale of Raw head and Bloody Bones, Jack Wolf’s debut novel, can stand alongside these modern classics.  This is an extraordinarily controlled and artful book."—Financial Times

"Wolf's first novel plays on readers' fears of death, demons, pain, and insanity while challenging us to question our assumptions about love and sex, joy and grief, and reality itself."—Booklist 

 "[A] lively, visceral tale… at times ravaging, revealing, and primeval… ’tis a tale that will make you acutely aware of how madness descends—and inexorably pull you into its clutches."—New York Journal of Books

 "Written in first-person person period language (compleat with capitalized Nouns and idiosyncratic Spelnygs), it's hard to believe this is Wolf's debut novel. The 18th-century pastiche is skilfully executed and wholly absorbing; imagination abounds and the imagery is high-def vivid… Completely engrossing… Highly recommended."
—Historical Novel Society

"Definitely one of the more unique, if not the most unique, fantasy novels of 2013, a welcome change from the more flashy, but less substantial, blockbusters of the genre."—Darkeva's Dark Delights

"Tristan's sadistic flights of fancy make for consciously creepy reading but this knowingly warped tale about a journey into a disturbed psyche offers more than gratuitous horror. Instead, Wolf's sure hand with Hart's arcane voice and intelligent control of material including medical history and strange folklore results in a thrilling tale of transgression"
Metro (UK)
 
"This gloriously over-egged pudding of a first novel is set in 1750, and crammed with chunks of history, philosophy and folklore ... Wolf is a superb storyteller who sucks the reader into his fascinating imagination."
The Times (UK)
 
"Thrilling . . . extraordinary . . . Jack Wolf delivers his tale with passion, precision and poetry. Those of strong stomach and vivid imagination will find glittering delights in here."
The Guardian (UK)
 
 “Tristan Hart...is among the most striking and memorable anti-heroes to have appeared in recent British fiction. ”
Times Literary Supplement
 
“This rollicking mash-up of the scientific and the supernatural, the rational and loony, is by turns funny, moving, delicate and quite horrific. A terrific debut.”
The Daily Mail

"Tristan bears a resemblance to Patrick Suskind's Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, but he is far more complicated and captivating as the protagonist. There's an earnestness that lies beneath his brutish nature, which surfaces unexpectedly and lures the reader into the murky depths of his mental anguish. Wolf's fearless debut confronts opposing forces such as good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, and sanity and madness head-on. The narrative is thick with expectation and keeps the reader on tenterhooks throughout. This clever roller-coaster ride will challenge your reasoning, shake your senses and keep you awake at night."
—welovethisbook.com


 

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 edition (March 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780143123828
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143123828
  • ASIN: 0143123823
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,568,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By London Fog on April 16, 2013
Format: Paperback
Written in a pastiche style of eighteenth century British literature, complete with capitalized nouns, alternate spellings, grammar, and frequent delvings into extremely sensitive topics, I can easily see how this book could be off putting to many readers. For the sake of full disclosure, while I began to enjoy the narrative immensely once my initial dislike of the route I assumed the story might be headed down had passed, there were still several instances when I considered putting this book down permanently. Not only because dubious subject matter is frequently touched upon, it is normally of a nature that, in the hands of a less skilled writer, would likely turn me off entirely. Tristan Hart, the narrator who, as events (languidly) unfold, struggles with hallucinations, scientific ponderings, the belief in God, and sadomasochistic sexual impulses that translate into an ongoing fascination with pain, should have been an unsympathetic character, and I can think of no reason this largely plotless novel would otherwise be worth the investment of time or money.

Yet time and again, scenes that I expected to be deplorable were written so tastefully, poetically, even, I was unintentionally captivated by the unfolding story, and by Tristan's constant internal struggles with good versus evil. And oddly enough, despite many of his actions and reactions, he is presented as a basically good, morally upright young man. He comes to the conclusion that God and science can coexist without conflict, that he can turn his fascination with suffering to good purpose in his medical training. He is scientifically curious almost to a fault, and even when approaching a subject clinically, manages to utilize his intelligence and insight into relieving human illness.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Liviania VINE VOICE on April 15, 2013
Format: Paperback
I was eager to read THE TALE OF RAW HEAD AND BLOODY BONES. If there's one thing I love, it's a fairy story. And the bogeyman Raw Head may not be well known on this side of the pond, but I have heard of him because I am just that much of a geek. (Okay, so he was in the latest Dresden Files novel.) Throw in a genius young man who might be mad and I'm there.

Then I started the book and worried about what I'd gotten into by signing up for the TLC book tour. There was the capitalization of every noun, the archaic spellings - I despaired. I get going for atmosphere, honestly, but it's pretentious and unauthentic. After all, the words are misspelled the same way every time in a modern text. And it doesn't start with Tristan Hart going off to be a physician and studying pain. Oh no, it starts when he's a little kid with a best friend, Nathaniel Ravenscroft, who is a little jerk obviously going to grow into a bigger jerk.

Then when Tristan gets older and finally goes off to London, he stays with Henry Fielding. The Henry Fielding. It was an odd intrusion of reality that I wasn't into. And well, I was struggling with Tristan's fantasies. The guy has some mental health issues, although those around him are more aware of it than he is. (Animal lovers: beware.) But I'd promised to read this book! And about 200 pages in, it started clicking. It was his first surgery - a scene that's gruesome, but the physical action is overwhelmed by both Tristan's lust and his competence as a doctor. I loved the duality of his talent and his sadism.

As THE TALE OF RAW HEAD AND BLOODY BONES goes on, people and places from the long beginning start showing up again. But it's hard to know if they're really there, because Tristan is the narrator and Tristan is crazy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jenny Q @ Let Them Read Books VINE VOICE on May 14, 2013
Format: Paperback
2.5 Stars. This is definitely going to be one of the most unusual books I've read in a while. The story follows Tristan Hart from his youth to adulthood, and we realize from the beginning that he's a little strange, particularly as we witness his interactions with his equally warped friend Nathaniel Ravenscroft, but the story really gets going (as does Tristan's sanity) after a mental breakdown when the fear of a Jacobite invasion becomes too much too bear. Unsure of how to handle him, his father and housekeeper tend to give him what he wants, including allowing Tristan to create his own laboratory to pursue his desire to become a man of science. He starts off by dissecting small animals, then begins to wonder what it would be like to hurt people, to torture them, particularly women. He decides to find out, only he chooses the wrong one to start with: a Gypsy girl who curses him for daring to attempt to harm her, and whose curse winds its way into Tristan's psyche and pops up at the worst times in his life. After moving to London to pursue his academic studies, he decides to forego unwilling victims by finding a whorehouse where he is free to unleash his twisted fantasies.

Tristan is given the opportunity of a lifetime when he is chosen to be a prominent physician's apprentice, and he gets to start dissecting cadavers before moving on to living humans. But always simmering under the surface as he treats his patients is the wonder of what their screams of pain would sound like, and how he would feel to be the one causing their pain.
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