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The Resurrectionist
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on 16 July 2008
Although getting off to a reasonable start this book soon becomes more than a little frustrating. Having read a number of other reviews on this site I am left a little mystified and anyone expecting a cross between Lovecraft and Dickens will be mightily disappointed.

The story, as has been written elsewhere, takes us through the protagonists decline from anatomists assistant to drug addicted bodysnatcher but forgets to create a deep enough back story for the reader to actually care. All the characters in the book are made largely uninteresting owing to a lack of depth and it is a little bit of a cheat to say that just because the books subject is a little macabre that this is a spine tingling page turner. Buyer beware because it is not. It's not that the novel is badly written, it's actually the opposite, but no time is given to plot or character development and there is no feeling that the main characters fall from grace is at any point anything other than a trite and rather linear progression. One minute Gabriel Swift is a gentleman entering London society, an anatomists apprentice at the dawn of the age of discovery; the next he's a murdering opium addict. Lucan, Mr Poll, Charles, etc etc. There are charcters here somewhere. "If only" would sum up this novel nicely.

It is hard not to suspect that either it has been over-edited or the author was only allowed to write a novel of a certain length for some reason. Either way both story and characters are thin and sickly creatures and it is a shame that a writer who clearly has some talent ultimately has produced a work that leaves this reader wishing for more.

The second part of the story, mentioned in a few reviews is also a little odd and when reading the book, the jump from one story to another is at first confusing. It seems almost as if part 2 were written because someone somewhere asked for a happier ending.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 August 2014
The Australian writer, James Bradley, looks back to early 19th century London for the setting for his third novel published in the UK in 2007. Gabriel Swift is a young [ap]prentice to the famous anatomist, Edwin Poll, and is drawn, through the constant need of bodies, into the world of those who provide them, some surviving on the edge of society, others like Lucan who ‘holds half the anatomists in London to ransom’.

There is much to admire in this book, the descriptions of contemporary London and its gentlemen, actresses, prostitutes, artists, hawkers and sellers of all kinds, and beggars. The time acknowledged by the author with the ‘recently-dead’ is also evident from his descriptions of bodies, body parts and surgical investigations, ‘On the bench before Robert a woman’s foot, already blackened with the taint of its own corruption. Divided from its body it is anonymous, the gracile toes twisted and burred by years of shoes worn too tight. Yet as Robert works it reveals itself, his steady knife pressing into the flesh’s soft resistance, the slipping meat slowly exposing the sinewed bone and cartilage.’

However, few of Bradley’s characters take on a life of their own, partly because he has chosen to develop his story through a great many short chapters, subdivided into even shorter sections. This has the disadvantages of breaking up the narrator’s story and inhibiting character development. Whilst the author is good at descriptive writing, this is not the case with his dialogue, or with early 19th-century dialogue, and there is a strange uniformity about what is said by characters from very different levels in society.

Swift, although adept at his practical and theoretical studies, and an excellent artist [both of which are exploited in the rather surprising last quarter of the book] is rather slow to understand the fine line between actress and prostitute. There is rather too much repetitive visiting the rooms of his actress friend, Arabella, dashing out to carry out emergency operations, general rowdyism and collecting bodies. With judicious editing a much tighter book could have been created. Alternatively, had its characters been more developed and not been so centred on Swift then a longer historical narrative might have been an alternative possibility. As presented it fell between these two options.

Swift parts ways with Poll and, in order to make ends meet, becomes involved in providing bodies for anatomists and their students. Once again there are some well-researched descriptions, also these do become repetitive, let down by dialogue that, even when between the lowest of the low, is presented without accent or contemporary resonance.

This book might have been entitled ‘Corruption’ - of the bodies, of those responsible for their collection, of late Georgian society and of our narrator. It is all unremittingly bleak. I was not really convinced by the last third of the book that seemed designed primarily to prevent Swift’s untimely death by violence, opium or disease.

The book has an obvious Dickensian feel but, unlike the master, many characters remained shrouded on the periphery and, even when a real villain was established, very little was done to make the character suitably chilling. Swift is the centre of the book but, unfortunately, he cannot support the whole edifice. Strangely, emotion also seemed in short supply.

This book might have some interest for a readership interested in early 19th-century London, but I found it less than satisfying, 5/10.
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VINE VOICEon 25 June 2013
Gabriel Swift is a student of anatomy in London during the 1820s, dependent on the goodwill of his guardian. He is a likeable character at first, appearing considerate and kind, yet with an unfortunate tendency to submit to other men's stronger wills. By accident he becomes complicit in the shady dealings of the body snatchers who supply the anatomists with a ready stream of corpses on which they can practise their craft. Through a series of events Gabriel sinks deeper and deeper into the dark London underworld, gradually abandoning his humanity in favour of easy money.

There is no denying that James Bradley paints a very dark picture of London towards the end of the Georgian era, and very atmospheric it is too. His prose often is a joy to read, and with his protagonist Gabriel Swift he has given the reader someone who is very eloquent and examines his feelings frequently, taking us into his confidence. Gradually a more unpleasant side to his character is revealed as he becomes more and more involved in the dark dealings of the body snatchers himself. His situation created ambivalent feelings in me because I couldn't help feeling a certain empathy towards him, but I also often felt like shouting at him to shake him out of his passivity. It is painful and infuriating in equal measures to watch as he slips ever further away from a previously upheld morality, allowing the lure of easy money to become the thought foremost in his mind when it is presented to him, forsaking his humanity in the bargain; in the most unpleasant passages the novel recalls the notorious deeds of Burke and Hare in Edinburgh. Even to himself he shies away from admitting what he has done, only ever calling it 'the thing'. When eventually his past seems to catch up with him, and he is shunned by everyone in the colony, I only felt that he was receiving his just deserts, and could not feel sorry for him. At the very end he talks about being remade, yet personally I can't see it: at no point does he express remorse for the crimes he has committed, and, no matter where he goes, I feel his secret will always follow him. With his actions, Gabriel has broken the most basic moral code there is, and there will be no redemption for him.
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on 8 September 2009
I really didn't know what to make of this book when I'd finished it; it seemed to throw up more puzzles than it solved. It's the story of Gabriel who begins his working life preparing corpses for anatomy lectures, but who spirals slowly down into a literal pit of despair. I was hooked on the story and read it in two sittings, although to begin with the short scenes and absence of transition between scenes I found irritating. It was all a bit disjointed in the beginning with a lack of connection that didn't fully explain itself.

Some parts of the book were disturbing, and yet I felt a morbid fascination with Gabriel's amoral attitude, both to what was going on around him, and eventually what he was party to himself. He's very much the antihero. As a boy he had felt enjoyment watching an animal being tortured. I get the impression that he had felt disturbed by this (his feelings), but at the same time had to accept that it was part of his nature.

It's this darker side to humanity that I think the author was trying to address in the book. When we encounter Gabriel in very different circumstances in the second part of the book, we see that no matter how far he moved away from his past, he could not escape it, which is another theme. With the name Gabriel, it seems that in some ways the author was holding a mirror to the angel of that name, and presenting the main protagonist as the alter ego, or antithesis, of the messenger heralding good, to one who heralds the less pleasant parts of life.

However, my problem with the book overall was that I didn't feel as if the characterisation had gone into sufficient depth for the reader to accept Gabriel as a flawed person (or otherwise). I didn't feel that I knew enough about him to understand his decline either. It didn't fully make sense for me, and I think this is the main flaw of this book, which is a great shame.

Having said all that, it is a good read, and it's interesting to have a protagonist who isn't a sympathetic character. Just a little unsatisfying as you reach the end and wonder what exactly it was all about.
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VINE VOICEon 9 August 2008
I picked up this as the local bookshop was doing a deal on Richard and Judy books.

It started quite well, although I felt that, apart from the main couple of characters, many of the others weren't fleshed out as much as they should've been and didn't really make an impression. Often, when a character turned up later in the book, I found myself checking back to find out who they were.

The story is a great idea and the first half of the book builds it quite nicely. The atmosphere of Georgian London is evoked well. Then it seems as though the reader is expected to fill in a lot of gaps by themselves as there seemed to be gaps in the narrative as events seem to happen much too quickly. This, I thought was especially so in the last part of the story where I really wasn't sure what was going on and even after it was explained I still felt that it didn't really work and would've been quite happy if the story had finished earlier without what felt almost like a "Hollywood happy ending".

Personally I feel that the whole book would be better if it was twice as long and the narrative wasn't so rushed allowing the story, a few hinted at subplots and the characters to develop in a much more realistic and natural way.

As for being a "Gothic Chiller" - definitely not.
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VINE VOICEon 4 October 2008
I loved the first page of this book and it would be fair to say it is well written. For two pages I thought I had fallen upon a gem of a novel but it just fades away. The characters were too quickly introduced and too many had confusingly similar names for me to be able to keep up with the pacy plot which dipped and dived from place to place and day to day. I know I am tired when I read at the end of the day but this book could not sustain my interest and I am sad to say I have given up half way through. The main character is Gabriel Swift, who wishes to train as a pathologist, and he sees the bodies brought by the body snatchers. There are some interesting musings on the nature of life and death but they were a smoke screen for a plot with little clear sense of direction. Bradley could be a great writer; he has style, but this isn't the one.
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on 18 November 2010
Having recently read Rutherford's 'London', I was really looking forward to this. In my opinion it was awful. I fought me way through to the end. The jump to Australia is bizarre. As per another reviewer, I had to keep going back to work out which character was which. Characterisation is really thin. No proper explanation, in a historical context, as to why all these bodies are being stolen (read a Rutherford novel). If I had to read "I could not know" or "I could not tell" one more time, I think that I'll top myself! If the author doesn't know what his characters don't know/can't tell what hope do we have as the readers - that's his job. He must have burst a blood vessel trying to find different and yet more obscure ways of describing the weather, sky, atmosphere, fog, gloom, stench,....it goes on....ridiculous. A disaster of a novel.
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on 30 August 2008
Bought too early to read previous reviews and saved for holiday. Such a disappointment and for once agree with most other reviewers. Incomprehensible and implausible plot, characters appearing with no introduction and all lacking in depth. Like to use my imagination but this was ridiculous and very frustrating - were we supposed to be mind readers? Where was the promised atmosphere. Second section even worse - how, what, who etc. Did not give up but was so tempted. Expect to see lines of this book on charity shop shelves.
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on 30 January 2009
We are in 1826 and after the lessening of hangings (this isn't explained I just know this) bodies of the dead are much harder to come by, gone are the days where you had endless amounts at your disposal, now has come a time of grave robbing. Gabriel Swift has come to London to be the apprentice of the well renowned anatomist Edwin Poll. He finds himself enemy of another member of the household and drawn to Polls nemesis Lucan one of the most famous of the resurrectionist's. Swift is forced into a darker world when dismissed by Poll and at Lucan's side takes a journey that will change him forever.

Sounds great doesn't it? Well after page 150 to about 250 it is brilliant. The start of the book however is decidedly slow, there is a gruesome opening chapter looking at the aspects of anatomy and dead bodies but our protagonist doesn't actually feature properly in the book until chapter three. What's more two things are never explained with Swift. The first is how he ends up in London and with Poll exactly, yes his father dies (the blurb says his father had tragic failures, you don't ever know what these are) and he gains a new guardian but somehow it didn't make sense. Secondly why is Swifts decent into the darker more living hell (yes I know it makes a great story) so sudden and actually why does it happen? Yes he makes one enemy, but why does he not have the balls to let him take the rap and why do his friends not stick up for him?

His friends however are sort of colleagues, and there are so many of them with such similar names I completely got thrown and couldn't remember who was who or how they knew him. There was no background to the story and that made me wonder if there was in the authors mind. There's a particularly contrived love story between swift and an `actress' who stereotypically also ends up being a `woman of the night', I found myself thinking `if she can get money for sleeping with many men why is she bedding this cretin for free?' That was the books biggest problem I didn't like Swift, he had no real character, no real reason for being evil, and not in a sick `I love being evil just for being evil' way. He was one dimensional. You could say that a grave robber can't be a nice character, it was money, I am sure they had reasons.

With an ending in colonial Australia (I am not saying why) I think James Bradley had two books he wanted to write. One was the tale of gothic dark London, grave diggers and horror (this was gruesome but not scary) the other was society in Australia based on criminals or people with `history' these should have been two separate stories and not forced into one that had no backdrop or back bone. I never felt I was in London with the characters, which was a huge problem that would have been brilliant. If this book was snatched and anatomised you sadly wouldn't find a heart.
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VINE VOICEon 1 November 2008
Gabriel Swift is an orphan who is sent to London by his guardian, in order to learn about anatomy and surgery from the eminent Mr Poll. Gabriel is unsettled and largely unable to connect with those around him , but he does manage to form a companionship with Charles, another surgeon, who introduces him to the seamier side of London life. Gabriel also becomes acquainted with Lucan, a charismatic and dangerous resurrectionist, who seems to be able to blackmail and intimidate many of those he comes into contact with.

When Gabriel's apprenticeship fails, he must find other means of supporting himself (and his opium addiction.)As he falls further and further into addiction and despair, Gabriel must take desperate measures in order to survive. It is at this point that the narrative becomes begins to reflect how disconnected he is from those around him.

I don't think this book is nearly as bad as some of the other reviewers are saying. It is true that the story is a bit meandering, but really the novel is about one man's journey rather than being plot driven. The only things that I did find incredibly irritating was that Gabriel constantly mentions the meaningful looks he has observed between people and his interpretations of what they might mean. This is clearly ridiculous, and because it happens all the time it becomes annoying. However, I thought in general the book was very readable; although perhaps it would be better to avoid if you're either depressed or squeamish!
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