Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fiction: The Resurrectionist by Jack O’Connell

Jack O’Connell’s most recent book was just one of those that was never going to get the attention it deserved, no matter what. In the first place, O’Connell’s The Resurrectionist (Algonquin) had the misfortune of being given a distinctive moniker that got used by another popular book in roughly the same time period. James Bradley’s book by the same title -- published in 2007 by Faber & Faber in the UK -- has been getting a lot of attention, including being a Richard & Judy Pick for Summer 2008.

In the second place, there is no single space where O’Connell’s The Resurrectionist has a tight fit. There are elegant slashes of noir here but it is not a work of crime fiction. There are strong reaches into other worlds, but it is not quite SF/F. One could argue for straight up literary fiction, but the writing engages too sharply for that. And there is a fully developed plot, characters that can be understood and identified with and even dances with a bizarre comic book world where anything can happen.

As the book opens, a pharmacist named Sweeny has just had his young son, Danny, transferred to the Peck Clinic, a place where they specialize in comatose patients. It does not take us long to realize that, though the Peck Clinic has a good record for awakening patients in comas, there is a lot swirling just below the surface: just slightly out of our grasp. There is more to Sweeny, too, than meets the eye.

The Resurrectionist begins on a sharp and steady noir/crime fiction beat, and becomes ever more surreal until, by journey’s end, it’s difficult to keep track of what’s real and what is not.

O’Connell’s work has been compared to that of Kafka, William Gibson and Wambaugh. While he does not suffer under such comparison, it isn’t entirely fair. While, for me, there were moments when The Resurrectionist bent under its own weight, this was a journey I enjoyed from end to end. More: while I read, there was no voice to whom I felt O’Connell’s must be compared. This is great stuff: and unlike anything you’ve probably ever read before. Highly, highly recommended.

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