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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars dark, dark fantasy, 14 July 2011
This review is from: The Resurrectionist (Paperback)
This is the first book I've read by Jack O'Connell. It won't be the last.
It's the story of Sweeney, a pharmacist by trade, and his son Danny. Danny is in a coma following an accident, and Sweeney has taken a job at the Peck Clinic, an unusual forbidding institution that offers the hope of a cure for Danny. We see Sweeney's first days at the clinic and his dealings with Dr Peck and his daughter, the other workers and a biker gang who have some unspecified business with the doctor. But running alongside this is another story, that of a fantasy comic called Limbo that Danny was devoted to. This follows a group of circus freaks and their perilous travels from the land of Old Bohemia to Gehenna. At first almost entirely seperate, the story of the freaks impacts more and more on the real world storyline.

O'Connell's previous work seems to have been marketed as crime fiction, but this is a stranger beast than that straightforward tag. There's definitely a noirish tinge to the novel, but there's also touches of the gothic in the description of the Peck Clinic and Mansion, and most obviously, contemporary fantasy - I was very strongly put in mind of Jonathan Carroll's Bones Of The Moon and Neil Gaiman's Sandman arc A Game Of You, (and, although the two books couldn't be more different, it's worth noting that I read this immediately after Steve Toltz's A Fraction Of The Whole, also recommended and also about fathers and sons). By the end though, we are entirely in O'Connell's territory, as both stories slide into something darker and stranger than expected at the outset.
Probably one of the best books I've read so far this year, well worth picking up.
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8 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Resurrectionist, 30 April 2008
D. Johnstone "surly" (London) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Resurrectionist (Hardcover)
The Resurrectionist, Jack O'Connell's fifth published book, is a leap into a dual world of reality and comic book action, where the comic element is expressive and heartwarming and the reality is dark, hard and inventive. The book centres on a father and his fight for his son who is in a coma. His hopes rest on transferring his son to a specialist clinic with different beliefs about coma patients.

Jack O'Connell's writing style is grainy, and similar to Stephen King's harsh use of modern language. He enjoys the art of writing, and is engaging with phrases such as `nip of analysis and shooter of speculation'. Sweeney, the father, paralysed because he can do nothing for his son, finds himself continually in physical situations brought upon by his uncontrollable rage with his situation. The author helps us identify these moods, "he let himself wipe his eyes", or, "she let herself take a drink", to impress when the characters are losing control.

Dreams and imagination are a key part of the plot. Dr. Peck, the owner of the Clinic, chooses to enter dream like states brought upon by sleep deprivation and alcohol to reach a consciousness for abstract and creative thought. On the contrary, Sweeney suffers chronic insomnia due to his fear of his dreams and this leads to weaknesses in his memory. Sweeney's son Danny was obsessed with the comic book adventures of a troupe of freaks, and Sweeney uses this imaginative world as an anchor to hold onto his son through immersing in the comic world himself.

This leads into the parallel story within the book, the comic narrative. Here the chapters concern the journey of an original group of circus freaks across a landscape. Their goal is to find the father of the `Chicken boy', who can communicate to him during seizures, whilst avoiding the clutches of the mysterious Dr. Fleiss. Set in Old Bohemia the world is foreign to our own but contains many modern concepts: amphetamines; manic depressives and bad karma. This differential is highlighted by the use of Germanic words such as `missgeburten' in contradiction to the smattering of Spanish in the parallel story. The author wants us to enjoy his imagination but not to set the worlds too firmly apart and lose the meaning.

This book should not be compared to The Tenth Circle, by Jodi Picoult, which uses a sporadic comic script as an insight into a comic-book artist's collapsing world and his reawakening. Here the comic story works on its own and although shorter than the main plot is enjoyable to read outright. The morality of the freaks is a strong force in the book, and the message that image is not important and most often deceiving. The important thing is the soul,
"Because to live forever with a grief that deforms the heart is unacceptable - an abomination that must not be tolerated."

Both parts are told in the third person, with the comic retelling instructive as well as story-telling. The author maintains the links between the stories by interchanging subjects. After a chapter on the circus troupe, we find a guttersnipe using the phrase, "every freak and his mother". This naming also helps us identify with the characters, the difference between naming the patients turnips, sleepers or simply in a coma.

Overall I believe that the author has created as complete a two worlds as can be done within just three hundred agonisingly short pages. Everything that we expect from a mystery novel is here, from the honey trap to the constant plot twists. What is also present is a detailed narration of a part of the human psyche, and the darkness of our lives peppered by wonderous chance and freedom. An excellent read.
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The Resurrectionist
The Resurrectionist by Jack O'Connell (Paperback - 2 Jun. 2009)
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