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The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones [Hardcover]

Jack Wolf
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
Price: 14.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

3 Jan 2013

The year is 1750.

Tristan Hart, precociously talented student of medicine practising under the legendary Dr William Hunter. His obsession is the nature of pain and preventing it; the relationship between mind and matter and the existence of God. A product of the Age of Enlightenment, he is a rational man on a quest to cut through darkness and superstition with the brilliant blade of science.

Tristan Hart, madman and deviant. His obsession is the nature of pain, and causing it. A product of an age of faeries and goblins, gnomes and shape-shifting gypsies, he is on a quest to arouse the perfect scream and slay the daemon Raw Head who torments his dark days and long nights.

Troubled visionary, twisted genius, loving sadist. What is real and what imagined in Tristan Hart's brutal, beautiful, complex world?

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus (3 Jan 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0701186879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701186876
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.6 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 424,999 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Jack Wolf's extraordinary 18th-century story does exactly what it says on the cover. It's a tale, in the grandest sense of the word. It's raw, at times even extreme. It explores elegantly the eternal dialogue between the head and bones. And it's quite startlingly, and beautifully, bloody ... Jack Wolf delivers his tale with passion, precision and poetry. Those of strong stomach and vivid imagination will find glittering delights in here" (Lloyd Shepherd Guardian)

"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" (Kate Saunders The Times)

"This moving tale of metamorphosis and blurred identity, otherness and liminality ... An extraordinarily controlled and artful book" (Suzi Feay Financial Times)

"Sadist, frequenter of brothels, afflicted by delusions and murderous intentions, Tristan Hart is among the most striking and memorable anti-heroes to have appeared in recent British fiction" (Jonathan Barnes Times Literary Supplement)

"This tale of a conflicted medical man opens in 1750 and evokes historical fiction such as Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Andrew Miller's Ingenious Pain, and Peter Ackroyd's Hawksmoor. The 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" (Suzy Feay Financial Times)

Book Description

Explosive, transgressive, ambitious, wildly imaginative debut from a major new writer

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
"What I did know, know for certain, was that I had wanted to cause Pain to Lady B. - I had wanted to heal her, too; but I had wanted to hear her Scream... We were Monsters, both of us; or perhaps fallen Angels"

Set in the mid-eighteenth-century, this is an excellently imagined story that is also executed faultlessly. The typography with its capitalisations, spelling and abbreviations resembles an eighteenth-century text, and perfectly matches the rhythm and tone of the narrative voice.

With nods to Victor Frankenstein, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, this also takes the novels of Fielding as precedents - and Henry Fielding appears as a character in this book - with the appearances of changeling children, and the moral patterning of the narrative.

This is a very intelligent book but it wears its learning lightly: it makes use of Enlightenment philosophy, especially Descartes, of surgical and anatomical treatises, myths and fairytales, and playfully has our hero think in Freudian terms a century before Freud.

So this is dark, sometimes gory, wildly imaginative, fantastical and yet comes to a satisfyingly `moral' ending - Jack Wolf has burst onto the literary scene with this book and I look forward eagerly to what he does next.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Light and dark 31 Jan 2013
A hard book to summarise.

Jack Wolf explores the mid eighteenth century, which he portrays as balanced between a scientific future and the superstitious past. Talented and intelligent Tristan Hart grows up on his father's country estate west of Oxford. Tristan's mother is dead, his father remote and lost in grief, and his only companion is Nathaniel Ravenscroft, tearaway son of the local Vicar.

Tristan is attracted both by the sensual life that Nathaniel pursues and by the study of science, specifically anatomy, to which end he sets up his own dissecting room. Eventually, Tris persuades his father to allow him to study medicine in London, under the care of novelist and magistrate Henry Fielding. From then, his life is pulled three ways. He has an ambition to become a surgeon and investigate the world - especially, the causes and cures of pain - using rational investigation. He is obsessed with the woman Vivianne who he believes is a fairy queen and terrified of her dark world of gnomes and goblins and especially of the dark story of Raw Head and Bloody Bones. Finally, there is the dark pleasure he takes from others' pain (" 'Tis a species of love") which he is now able to indulge in the pleasure houses of Covent Garden.

These forces shape Tristan's life and as they twist and turn they are reflected in a narrative also taking place on three levels - the rational everyday, episodes of madness or delusion which he suffers, and the world of dreams which he - and those around him - take very seriously. So it is hard to unpick these themes and to know whether something "really" happened as Tristan describes, or whether it is a delusion or a dream.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bloody Brilliant! 18 Jan 2013
The mid-18th century was a dark time. Life was often worth very little and the nascent age of science was yet to mature into the elder statesman we know it as today.
Into this era was born Tristan Hart, a young man obsessed with pain, the purity of its expression and how to prevent it. He studies under the famous Doctor William Hunter in London but spends almost as much time in a local bawdy house where there are women willing to be tortured, for the right price. Soon Tristan can no longer be aroused unless he is inflicting pain upon a woman.
Into his life comes a young girl of 14 - whom he initially believes to be only twelve years old - who self-harms and is his equal in a desire for pain.
Hart is, undoubtedly, mad but it is to Wolf's credit that we are left to wonder exactly where Tristan's madness ends and real life, however twisted it might be, begins.
This is a very dark book and the age of Hart's amour sits uncomfortably in a post-Saville society, but as someone once said, the past is another country and they certainly did things differently then.
The Tale of Raw Head & Bloody Bones reads like an 18th century American Psycho - without the references to Huey Lewis and The News. Hart is as obsessed with his appearance as Psycho's Patrick Bateman. In fact, he spends much of his time trying to ensure that his appearance is that of a precociously talented student doctor, and not of a man haunted by a shape-shifting gypsy woman, goblins and the constant beating of a spectral drum.
Jack Wolf has taken the traditional folk tale of Rawhead and Bloody Bones and turned it into a tour de force of gothic horror. The language and punctuation used is as one would expect from the era, yet still for a modern reader's ear.
If you like horror and historical fiction and you're not *too* squeamish, I couldn't recommend The Tale of Rawhead & Bloody Bones more highly.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars literary time machine 14 Mar 2013
When I saw this book well reviewed in the Guardian, and on Radio Four, I wanted to read it.
The main character, Tristan Hart, having lost his Jewish mother in early childhood and his father to a grief that caused him to withdraw from his children, stumbles into adolescence and adulthood grappling with mental health issues that cause him to have hallucinations and paranoid fantasies, which are brilliantly and skilfully contextualised by Jack within the parameters of his gender, personal story, class and place in history. Tristan is a very intelligent young man, fascinated by the latest in 18th-century science and philosophy and obsessed by the idea of becoming a surgical genius. The book follows his journey, from lonely isolation on a country estate to the gritty bustle of London. Tristan has much help along the way, more than you might expect. He becomes engulfed in a world of vivisection, dissection and sadism. In anybody else's hands I would have dropped this book by this point, but Jack Wolf takes us through this world, gently, with an emphasis on explanation, rather than shock or judgement. This book certainly has its challenging moments, the detailed description of an attempted mastectomy in the 18th century, with no anaesthesia, is enough to shake any woman's heart but I cannot tell you how beautifully written, gripping and exciting this novel is. The use of 18th-century typography, grammar and phrases are like a kind of literary time machine, keeping you bound in the 18th century, even when the ideas and events have echoes in our own time.
Interweaved throughout the book is a kind of magical realism based on fairies and goblins and other worlds, reminiscent of the artistic culture of that period.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Sometimes annoying style - a bit forced. The plot was thin and the end disappointing.
Published 1 month ago by P. N. Winfield
4.0 out of 5 stars He is a brilliant, gifted genius and enrols at medical school where...
This fabulously titled book, The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones, is the story of haunted man. Tristan Hart is haunted by almost everything he comes into contact with. Read more
Published 1 month ago by
5.0 out of 5 stars A surprising page-turner
Written in the language and style of the time in which it is set, it takes a few pages to get used to the style. From then on, the writing is fluid and the tale is gripping. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Rosie Posey
5.0 out of 5 stars Horrifying - brilliant
The premise of this book was so fascinating that I could hardly wait to get hold of it to read. Set in the mid-eighteenth century, this is the tale of Tristan Hart, a medical... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Keen Reader
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting
I loved the different strands of relationships within this book. I also felt that the love Tristan feels for Katherine redeems him (in the way that Heathcliff's love for his... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Cat G
4.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative and poetic tale
I did find the theme of sexual violence not to my taste but otherwise I thought it was the most original historical fiction that I've read for years. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Jenny
1.0 out of 5 stars Waste of money
A complete load of drivel. Writing about goblins is just an excuse to write meaningless rubbish. Very poor and predictable story line.
Published 18 months ago by davidh
1.0 out of 5 stars unreadable
Why? Oh why are there so many capital letters mid sentence, for no disernable reason, all the way through the text. This was so distracting i wanted to give up at once. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Ms.B.Itch
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
"The Tale of Raw Head & Bloody Bones" by Jack Wolf was a surprise-find and a real treat for me. I saw it advertised by my favourite bookstore in Bath and decided to try this local... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Amazon Customer
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