Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Blog Tour Review: The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf

From the Back Cover:

An explosive and daring debut novel set during the Enlightenment that tells the tale of a promising young surgeon-in-training whose study of anatomy is deeply complicated by his uncontrollable sadistic tendencies.

Meet Tristan Hart, a brilliant young man of means. The year is 1751, and Mr Hart leaves his Berkshire home for London to lodge with his father's friend, the novelist and dramatist Henry Fielding, and study medicine at the great hospital of University College. It will be a momentous year for the cultured and intellectually ambitious Mr Hart, who, as well as being a student of Locke and Descartes and a promising young physician, is also, alas, a psychopath. His obsession is the nature of pain, and preventing it during medical procedures. His equally strong and far more unpredictable obsession is the nature of pain, and causing it. Desperate to understand his own deviant desires before they derail his career and drive him mad, Tristan sifts through his childhood memories, memories that are informed by dark superstitions about faeries and goblins and shape-shifting gypsies. Will the new tools of the age-reason and science and scepticism-be enough to save him?

Unexpectedly funny, profoundly imaginative, and with a strange love story at its heart, The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones is a novel about the Enlightenment, the relationship between the mind and body, sex, madness, the nature of pain, and the existence of God.

My Thoughts:

This is definitely going to be one of the most unusual books I've read in a while. The story follows Tristan Hart from his youth to adulthood, and we realize from the beginning that he's a little strange, particularly as we witness his interactions with his equally warped friend Nathaniel Ravenscroft, but the story really gets going (as does Tristan's sanity) after a mental breakdown when the fear of a Jacobite invasion becomes too much too bear. Unsure of how to handle him, his father and housekeeper tend to give him what he wants, including allowing Tristan to create his own laboratory to pursue his desire to become a man of science. He starts off by dissecting small animals, then begins to wonder what it would be like to hurt people, to torture them, particularly women. He decides to find out, only he chooses the wrong one to start with: a Gypsy girl who curses him for daring to attempt to harm her, and whose curse winds its way into Tristan's psyche and pops up at the worst times in his life. After moving to London to pursue his academic studies, he decides to forego unwilling victims by finding a whorehouse where he is free to unleash his twisted fantasies.

Tristan is given the opportunity of a lifetime when he is chosen to be a prominent physician's apprentice, and he gets to start dissecting cadavers before moving on to living humans. But always simmering under the surface as he treats his patients is the wonder of what their screams of pain would sound like, and how he would feel to be the one causing their pain. There seems to be little hope of Tristan developing any redeeming qualities until he meets his match in Katherine: a beautiful young woman who has dark obsessions of her own, and who rather miraculously manages to condone Tristan's sadistic tendencies while at the same time curbing the darkest side of his nature. As the story progresses, Tristan starts having more episodes of madness, and eventually we get to the point where we cannot tell if anything he thinks is happening is actually happening or if it is all in his head. His colleagues begin to take note of his unbalanced state and his professional and personal lives seem to spiral out of his control, leading up to a dramatic and frenzied conclusion.

Ultimately, this book was not a particularly enjoyable read for me. We started off on the wrong foot when the capitalization of every other mundane word in the story quickly began to annoy me. I was able to tune it out by the time I got about fifty pages in, but still, I thought it was rather pretentious. And it was long-winded. I think even if I had been invested in the characters I would have been hard-pressed not to skim a bit. And I'm still not quite sure what all exactly went down at the end, and what was real and what was not. It gets props for being well written and for its historical flavor, but the content was just not my cup of tea. I think this is the kind of book that every reader is going to have a different experience with, so don't let my impressions prevent you from giving it a go, especially if you're in the mood for literary dark and different.


Enter to win a copy of The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by leaving a comment on this post with your email address.

This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada and ends at 11:59pm Monday, May 27, 2013. Winner will be selected at random. Thanks, and good luck!

This giveaway is closed and the winner has been selected.
Stay tuned for more great giveaways!

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones
is on a blog tour!
Click here to view the tour schedule.


  1. I was captivated with your thoughts. This unique novel is amazing. Many thanks. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  2. Your post was fascinating as is this book which I would enjoy. thanks for your great review. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  3. Wow! I can't WAIT to read this! I love that cover, too ; )
    I'm definitely adding this to my TBR list immediately!
    I wonder what kind of events or people in the author's life inspired them to write this book!?
    Thanks for the giveaway!
    mestith at gmail dot com

  4. Thank you for the honest review. There have been so many conflicting reviews for this one, as it seems to be a case of either love it or hate it. I would really like a chance to check it out, though.


  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour.

  6. Sounds like an interesting story.

    bookaholicholly at gmail dot com


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