cover image The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones

Jack Wolf. Penguin, $16 trade paper (549p) ISBN 978-0-14-312382-8

Tristan Hart is a psychotic sadist and a student of anatomy. Growing up in 18th-century England, he hears the legend of the boogeyman Raw-Head-and-Bloody-Bones and is not sure if Raw Head is a “Phantasm”—a subtle foreshadowing of Tristan’s frequent and elaborate hallucinations. While attending a surgery, Tristan discovers a need to inflict pain. He abuses prostitutes (“I dedicated Houres to the Acquisition and Perfection of my Form with the Last, the Cat, the Scourge, and the Birch Rod.... I became adept at provoking Screams of the truest Pitch and Intensity; bright Rainbows of refracted Anguish that lit up the Room”), but later meets Katherine Montague, who will become his wife and who, to Tristan’s delight, enjoys pain. Much of this debut from English writer Wolf is made up of Tristan’s hallucinations, populated with Goblins and Gypsies and depicted so elaborately it’s sometimes hard to discern whether the narrative is taking place in his mind or in his life—and, indeed, Wolf seems intent on the ambiguity. Wolf’s novel is confident and unique, although at times muddled, given the extent of the hallucinatory passages, but it should attract readers of historical fiction and transgressive fantasy. Agent: Will Francis, Janklow & Nesbit (U.K.). (Apr.)