- Hardcover: 642 pages
- Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; First edition (October 22, 1970)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0224619152
- ISBN-13: 978-0224619158
- Package Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,449,312 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Vivisector Hardcover – October 22, 1970
"A Novel by the Nobel Laureate of 1973" "Hurtle, bright as he was, had no idea what the Mad Eye meant, but he did know that, like all his drawings, it had something special about it..."
Top customer reviews
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But the book is difficult, slow-moving and dark. It will not appeal to those who want a quick-paced storyline... and forget the word "action" all ye that dare to enter herein. These pages will rain on you. And, like all walking in the rain, you will have to remain fairly determined to reach your destination.
But the book is not without its merits. Artists are not normal. They are eccentric. Hurtle Duffield is a born artist, and as such, from childhood onwards he is not normal. He is consistently, and increasingly, eccentric. As a child, he is keenly observant... in a sense, vivisecting everything he sees and experiences. His adoption into a wealthy family allows for the opportunity to expand his horizons, to experience the world... yet even this good fortune is no panacea, it is clouded with difficulties, with dysfunction. The fertile ground for the artistic mind to germinate.
Hurtle (as perhaps all great artists) becomes the sort of person who influences those who come in contact with him, but is unable to influence himself. His relationships are tragic and self-destructive for everyone involved. He becomes a recluse, spending the latter portion of his life living with his equally eccentric sister, the kind of guy that neighborhood kids invent legends about!
In his mansion he continues to paint his masterpieces, which are internationally recognized.
The only way that Hurtle can REALLY communicate with the outside world is through his art, and White does a superb job of showing us how detrimental this type of obsession can be for the personal life of the artist himself. It's a world few of us ever see. And it's gloomy.
At one point the narrator says that Hurtle's "repeated downfall was his longing to share truth with somebody specific who didn't want to receive it." This is a significant theme of the novel, Hurtle searching for the Ideal. And Hurtle himself cries out at one point, "I'm an artist. I can't afford exorcism."
Of course, White's choice of title for his book is significant. So, as I read the book, I kept asking myself... "Who IS the vivisector?" Is it "God" as Hurtle concludes in chapter 8? Or is it Hurtle himself?
How easy it is to blame God for our temperament, or for the choices we have made in life... famous artist or not!
The title is significant. White is asking something here, not giving us the answer. If Hurtle dies alone, and unfulfilled, is this God's fault? Hurtle's?
Who is the Vivisector in this novel? God? If so... who does he vivisect? Everyone? (If so, I can think of many people I know who do not seem very vivisected at all)! Does God arbitrarily pick and choose then?
Does God even exist?
If it's Hurtle, who does Hurtle vivisect? Himself? His original parents? His sister? Every woman in his life? Page 458 says "there were days when he himself was operated on." And the inference is that he (Hurtle) was the vivisector!
White leaves these questions unanswered, and to me, it was an eerie feeling, like one of those paintings with the eyes that follow you no matter where you walk in the room.
The book is worth reading, but keep an eye to the title of my review...
As a member of the Courtney family, Hurtle travels and becomes educated, though he continues to see rather than think. For him, the usual emotional traumas of adolescence are accompanied by unique questions of his identity, both because of his two families and also because of his view of the world. Not religious, he sees God as the Great Vivisector, and men treating each other as animals, slaughtering each other in war. When he himself goes off to war and returns to find that the family has gone in separate directions, he devotes himself, once again, to his art, using women who love him as vehicles for his own self-expression and behaving as a vivisector himself. About his painting of one model, White says "[Hurtle] disemboweled her while she was still alive." As time passes, Hurtle continues to search for love, inspiration, self-expression, and some sort of balance in his life between his immense need to paint, his desire for personal connection, and his simultaneous need to be alone.
White's prose style is direct and concise, elegantly simple, and easy to understand. He uses colloquial speech-words like "smoodge," "sook," "slommacky," and "mumped," which must be understood from context-and reveals character and action through dialogue. The novel is old-fashioned, using a straight chronological narrative with no complex flashbacks, and it is quite romantic in its plot elements, despite its serious theme development. The biggest problem for the reader is that the main character is not very likable, nor does he inspire a great deal of empathy--a difficult character to live with for approximately six hundred pages--and I'm not sure how typical he is of the artists he is supposed to represent. Mary Whipple