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The Anatomy School [Paperback]

Bernard MacLaverty
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Oct 2002
This is the story of the growing up of Martin Brennan, a troubled boy in troubled times, a boy who knows all the questions but none of the answers. This is Belfast in the late sixties. Before he can become an adult, Martin must unravel the sacred and contradictory mysteries of religion, science and sex; he must learn the value of friendship; but most of all he must pass his exams - at any cost. A book that celebrates the desire to speak and the need to say nothing, The Anatomy School moves from the enforced silence of Martin's Catholic school retreat, through the hilarious tea-and-biscuits repartee of his eccentric elders to the awkward wit and loose profanity of his two friends - the charismatic Kavanagh and the subversive Blaise Foley. An absorbing, tense and often very funny novel which takes Martin from the initiations of youth to the devoutly-wished-for consummation of the flesh, Bernard MacLaverty's new book is a remarkable re-creation of the high anxieties and deep joys of learning to find a place in the world.

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The Anatomy School + Lamb + Matters Of Life & Death
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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (3 Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099428466
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099428466
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 642,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

With The Anatomy School, his first novel since 1997's Grace Notes, Bernard MacLaverty returns to the dual concerns that animated that Booker-nominated success, and his earlier novels Lamb and Cal--the troubled politics of late 20th-century Ireland, and the familiar comedy of working-class Irish life.

We meet innocent Belfast Catholic teenager Michael Brennan as he enters a three-day retreat at Ardglass on the eve of his final year at school, resitting his A levels, to the increasing despair of his mother; by the end of the novel, at the end of the 1960s, Michael's innocence is somewhat tarnished, both by his own sexual awakening with an Australian girl in the local university's anatomy department, and by the sectarian bombs providing an inappropriate soundtrack outside. The bulk of the novel is given over to the schoolboy adventures of Brennan with his two friends, the popular sportsman Kavanagh and the sexually and politically mysterious new boy Blaise Foley. Seeking to spice up their workaday world of mocking their schoolmasters and sniggering about masturbation and pornography, together they embark on a torturously complex plot to hijack the year's A level papers--in Foley's eyes a blow against British imperialism but also a self-serving prank that leaves the ethically serious Michael in no small torment.

MacLaverty is at his best in the humorous moments, spinning out tense situations with the wandering skill of a stand-up comic and breathing new life into the compulsory old-folks' tea-party, the "dotery coterie" of Michael's fastidious mother, Nurse Gilliland, Father Farquharson and Mary Lawless. But undercutting the easy whimsy is a harsher tale of the inevitable death of innocence in a world of religion, politics and deception.--Alan Stewart --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"MacLaverty is a master of many moods and this genial, intelligent novel finds him at his best" (Sunday Telegraph)

"A brilliant novel" (Daily Telegraph)

"A zestfully funny novel of male adolescence" (Sunday Times)

"Novels of this quality should never end" (Irish Independent)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Rewarding Experience 19 Nov 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
At first it took me a little while to get into this book. It portrays a young man's coming of age in Belfast in the late sixties, working out what growing up is all about, and struggling with the conundrums of sex, religion and friendship.
There are some absolutely cracking characters, including the hero's ambuiguous, dangerous friend Blaise, and his arch-enemy, a bigoted and cruel teacher.
I particularly enjoyed the first half of the book. It's gripping, funny and poignant. I was a little disappointed by the end (which I found somewhat disjointed), but the first two thirds are extremely satisfying and make this book well worth reading. Recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly, highly recommended 8 Jan 2002
By A Customer
This is a beautifully crafted and funny novel, and is a wonderful insight into growing up in Belfast in the 50s & 60s.
The characters are extremely rich, particularly the hilarious triumvirate who meet in the home of Martin's mother.
Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Anatomy School 17 Sep 2005
By A Customer
I read this book a year ago and it still stays with me (must be a recommendation in itself). What the previous reviewer failed to mention was the humour of the book. In particular the supper times of the main character's mother, the priest and local characters- hilarious! Here is a very authentic portrayal of life, morals and concerns in Catholic Northern Ireland at the time (at least it feels authentic) alongside the persisting concerns of adolescence- embarrassment, social credibility and exams.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Growing up Catholic in working-class Belfast. 25 Dec 2002
Confronting the usual thorny, coming-of-age issues of sex, religion, and morality, Belfast teenager Martin Brennan and his friends, with their hormones in high gear, are stunningly naïve, their primary concern, sex, remaining a mysterious, dark realm into which they must feel their own way. Unable to gain much needed knowledge of basic biology from home or school, they try to sublimate their urges, exploring the mysteries of faith, the example of Christ, the meaning of sin, and the importance of family and friends, while privately garnering as much information as they can about the Big Secret.
Brilliantly creating the jokey banter, braggadocio, and innuendoes of teenage conversations, MacLaverty introduces a main character who, while a bit more serious and naive than some of his friends, is still a typical teenager facing typical teenage problems. And that, to me, is both the attraction and limitation of this novel. Many readers will chuckle out loud as they relive their own pasts through Martin, but at the conclusion, some may also ask, "Is that all there is?" The superficial resolution of normal teenage predicaments, no matter how well presented here, may not be satisfying for readers who expect a broader treatment of themes and a deeper exploration of inner conflicts. The author's introduction of the Catholic/Protestant violence at the end of the novel seems gratuitous, an overly strong element used to make a generalized point about morality and religion--Martin is almost untouched by The Troubles.
The book pulses with the drama of teenage life, kooky characters, a wonderful feel for the tenuous relationships between teens and adults, and often hilarious repartee--especially with the "dotery coterie" of Martin's mother, the local priest, and her two friends. These individual delights are not fully integrated into a thematic whole, however, and the reader may be left feeling a bit short-changed at the end--thoroughly entertained, but no wiser. Mary Whipple
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