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Breath and Bones Hardcover – May 1, 2005

3.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This steamy historical novel (Cokal's second, after Mirabilis) chronicles the adventures—sexual and otherwise—of its consumptive, red-haired heroine, Famke, from her childhood in a late 19th-century Copenhagen orphanage to her fate in the American Wild West. Famke's sensuality blooms early, and she graduates from Sapphic encounters at the convent orphanage to a passionate relationship at the age of 17, as model, muse and lover to Albert Castle, a young English Pre-Raphaelite painter. Albert renders her as the mythical Nimue and leaves Copenhagen with his masterpiece to seek his fortune. She follows him to America by marrying a polygamous Mormon, Heber Goodhouse, headed to Utah. From Utah, Famke makes her way to Colorado, where, disguised as the itinerant artist's young brother to avoid sexual solicitations, she discovers Albert's artwork in brothels—but not the artist himself. Discouraged and weak with tuberculosis, she is taken in by a wealthy, eccentric inventor in Hygeia Springs, Calif., who treats her consumption with a proto-vibrator. His mistaken suspicion of her involvement with a violent labor movement called the Dynamite Gang necessitates her escape once again. A series of incredible coincidences lead to her reunion with Albert and an explosive climax. This labyrinthine, literary bodice-ripper may titillate readers willing to follow the improbable plot twists and turns. Agent, Liv Blumer.8-city author tour. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Since her birth, Famke bewitches all those around her with her unique beauty. Sister Birgit favors Famke in the Danish orphanage; childhood friend Viggo saves Famke from scalding her hands in a pot of soap; lover Albert immortalizes Famke in a painting of Merlin's temptress Nimue. Albert soon abandons his muse, taking his masterpiece to London in search of recognition, leaving Famke to rely on her charms for help in finding him. She swiftly converts to Mormonism, convinces the leader to pay her passage, then promises him marriage. Her quest will take her to nineteenth-century American brothels, the Mormon utopia of Prophet City, and an experimental hospital for consumptives. Readers of this convoluted historical novel will feel more like observers than participants in the story. Characters are realistic but not entirely likable in a tale that is interesting without being completely absorbing. Oddly enough, this second effort is also billed as a comic novel. Give to insatiable fans of historical fiction who don't mind a few scattered oddities in their reading. Kaite Mediatore
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Unbridled Books; First Printing edition (May 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932961062
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932961065
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,108,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Susanna Cokal introduces us to Famke, a poor Danish orphan with Tuberculosis whose sex appeal gets her in trouble with the nuns and in bed with the rest of the orphanage, a painter, a polygamist morman & an early model vibrator, all while a multitude of others pursue what's under her skirts across the Atlantic and the American West in the late 1800s. Cokal's debut novel "Miribilis" was darkly sexual & intriguing - she clearly has the imagination and skill to deliver tantalizing stories! But in comparison, "Breath and Bones" disappoints.

Famke searches for Albert, a narcissistic mediocre painter with whom she believes herself to be in love, throughout the story. Her quest takes her across the Atlantic and the United States, into a polygamist family, and in and out of numerous brothels in the west. Famke's story lacks bits of reality needed to keep this reader truly interested. Though she is a young woman who apparantly oozes sex and is traveling alone, she encounters no violence. She is blissfully ignorant and blind to obvious coercion, and appears to be an accomplice to her own "captivity" at times. Further, she is wildly successful posing as a man and a painter though she is neither and descriptions of her physical appearance and artistic abilities lead one to wonder how she could have pulled off either ruse. Her luck and ability to land on her feet, which I suppose may amuse some, seemed too contrived.

Stories of such a physical journey during the early years of a young woman's life often parallel an internal journey to finding a sense of self, self respect, etc. Famke's character, however, remains nearly one-dimensional. She is stubborn about her health to the point of her near death.
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Format: Hardcover
In Denmark in the late 1880's, Famke Summerfugl finds comfort in the arms of her English artist/lover, Albert Castle, posing for him in a shabby garret, transported by his adoration of her youthful charms. Born in Denmark, Famke is left as an infant at the Orphanage of the Immaculate Heart, an early victim of the consumptive lungs that plague the orphans in that cold climate. The child is favored by Sister Birgit, who is in thrall of the flame-haired child from the start. In her eagerness to feed, baby Famke bites off the glass top of her bottle, tiny shards of glass cutting her tender lips. Sister Birgit delicately removes each sliver, forging a bond with the child that will never be broken.

A curious and feminine girl, Famke's precocious nature unsettles the sisters of the convent and they are happy to release her to work as a maid and goose girl. But Famke isn't meant for such a life and when she meets an artist, Albert Castle, she enthusiastically joins him as his model and lover. When Albert finishes his larger-than-life painting of the idealized beauty, he leaves for England, then later on to America. Waiting for Albert's return, Famke falls on hard times. When the opportunity arises, she follows Albert to America. So begins a long and desperate search that takes her to Utah, Colorado, the New Mexico Territories, Hygeia Springs, California and finally, to San Francisco.

Famke follows Albert's trail, always but a few steps behind, steadfast in her purpose.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
*****SPOILERS******* We go through an entire story of one consumptive teenager, who fell in love with the first self centered man she slept with, and posed for in his half-hearted attempt to become one of the "Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood, who gets abandoned and can't move on with her life and hunts him down FINALLY (only the last 20 pages or so) and ends up realizing how insipid, pallid and uninspiring he is, decides she doesn't want him anymore and then dies! Along the way we see her hoodwink and use others , all in the name of finding her Albert, and for some unknown reason, they all end up in love and fascinated by this one woman, mainly men because she is "beautiful with flame red hair" but there is little to her personality except a blind insistence on finding her "true love and soul mate." I can't say this book was worth the time it took to read it.....it's a week I will never get back.
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Format: Hardcover
In Breath and Bones, Susann Cokal explores pursuit - of beauty, perfection, art, love, lust, survival and even death. Possessed by their own addictions, each character follows one after another that person they believe will fulfill the missing pieces of their lives.

The repetition of the searching threatens to smother the reader until he or she falls beneath the surface of the plot to ponder the compulsions that drive humans toward that something they believe will make them whole.

Cokal bids us ask - Are our perceptions and reflections true or merely creatures of our soul's pursuits?
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