Somewhat the opposite of The Land of Laughs, reading The Resurrectionist, as a contemporary fantasy from an author whose reputation preceded him, was an experience that quickly satisfied my expectations. The two books are very different in tone and theme but they’re well worth a comparison as both set out to essentially do the same thing – the goal of most contemporary fantasy – to merge the real and believable with the magical. Only this one does it well.
Jack O’Connell, recognised, like Carroll, as a master of contemporary fantasy, does the genre justice by creating a sense of intrigue and wonder throughout, immersing the reader fully in this strange but familiar world, and by plotting with a strong sense of drama.
The Resurrectionist is difficult to summarise (and if nothing else I can confidently say it’s different to any tale you’re likely to have read); it’s essentially the story of a father with anger issues trying to take care of his comatose son against the colourful backdrop of a sinister coma hospital in a city beset by a vicious biker gang. Which is interspersed with episodes from the adventures of a runaway circus freakshow.
There’s a great sense throughout the story that all its seemingly disparate threads are connected with greater meaning than they initially offer. The device of the freakshow sub-story does this especially effectively, supposedly coming from the comatose boy’s comics, as its characters have many apparent parallels to but don’t quite align with the main plot. Yet right through to the end exactly how all the pieces fit together is left somewhat for the reader to decide. This instils a sense of fantasy from the start, while not initially requiring the real world setting to slip into that otherworldliness. And above the book’s success comes from your enjoyment of simply experiencing that dark fantasy atmosphere.
It’s not a novel without flaws; for one, the protagonist’s antisocial behaviour can be distractingly frustrating, particularly at times when important conversations are cut short purely because he’s constantly storming off in a huff. Its biggest problem, though, is that the many elements of the tale do not ultimately connect in as coherent a way as you might hope – and even though the final chapters give a self-aware understanding of this it won’t leave everyone feeling like the journey (enjoyable as it is) has a satisfying destination. In all its a story that consistently feels like it’s offering more than the sum of its parts. That is, in a way, the beauty of it.
The Resurrectionist by Jack O’Connell is available here.