Top positive review
A Different Kind of Hero
on 12 June 2017
This unusual novel is set in 18th century England. It narrates the life of James Dyer, born without sensation of pain. His body recovers swiftly from injury and is resistant to disease. Some years ago a US TV series, Heroes, endowed one of its cast with similar powers, a cheerleader, Claire Bennet. Catchphrase “Save the Cheerleader and save the world”, as fans might recall.
It seems unlikely that Claire was inspired by Andrew Miller’s novel, which owes more to contemporary writing – Roderick Random, Tristram Shandy – than modern comic culture.
The author explores several themes. The title indicates the most important - that James’s blessing may actually be a curse. If we cannot feel pain can we feel anything?
There is much else, especially a credible rendering of life in that period. Not just the details of diet and dress, riches and poverty. But also the way people thought – not yet Enlightened but slowly losing superstition and indeed religion. He reveals much of medicine – surgery and psychiatry as well as common remedies and cures. Description of disease and injury, and bodily function, is blunt.
He provides a rich cast of characters – doubting parsons, intellectual aristocrats, circus hucksters. We meet the Empress of Russia in the Winter Palace and fight with Byng in the Seven Years War. He uses devices of letters and diaries to push the tale along – and a very special performance of a Midsummer’s Night Dream. He writes well, his language is rich but not indigestible.
There is no plot, but the life of James provides its own adventures. The author contends most of the story is imagined. There was no James Dyer.
There are though some strange, dream-nightmare passages – with supernatural overtones. Moreover, what are we supposed to make of the death of James Dyer, in the first pages, at the age of 33? Maybe there is something of the cheerleader here!