The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf

Title: The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones
Author: Jack Wolf

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 18th Century / Medicine / Psychosis / Dissection / Horror / Historical Figure Fictionalized / London / Fey / Gypsies / Mental Illness)
Publisher/Publication Date: Penguin Books (3/26/2013)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay to greatly liked ... or maybe hated with lots of like. Possibly loved.  Probably loved.
Did I finish?: Yes -- I couldn't put this book down (until the moments when I did)!
One-sentence summary: The account of a Tristan Hart, 18th century amateur scientist, doctor, and possible psychotic.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, What's In a Name?

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's quite perfect -- messy, art-y, phantom-y...

I'm reminded of...: Patrick Süskind, Bret Easton Ellis

First line: One Morning in the Autumn of seventeen forty-one, when I was not yet eleven Yeares of Age, still round in Figure and innocent in Mind, Nathaniel Ravenscroft took me a-walking by the River.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy, I think, but borrow for sure.

Why did I get this book?: The cover and the historical setting.

Review: This is a messed up book. It's also odd, imaginative, a little gimmick-y, gross, captivating, fascinating, horrifying, and weird.

Set in the mid-1700s, our narrator is Tristan Hart, a young man of some means and some madness. Growing up with a depressed widower father, Tristan's best friend was the ethereal Nathaniel Ravenscroft, a handsome and daring young man who eventually runs off with gypsies. Tristan grows up a rather ordinary boy until an incident with a tutor brands him high-strung and prone to nerves.

It is only his father's friend, novelist and magistrate Henry Fielding, who prises Tristan from the country and into medical school in London. There, Tristan learns he is gifted at the art and science of surgery and that his sole sexual pleasure comes from provoking pain.

That's just the first half of the novel; the other half is Tristan learning to live with himself, his bouts of 'illness' and brushes with the supernatural, his love affair with a young teenager who matches his hunger for pain, and his passion for medical research.

The novel is written in an archiac homage to 18th century literature, with all nouns and some adjectives capitalized, and unusual spelling. Although I started to grow accustomed to Wolf's archaic writing style, I also found it slightly obfuscated the action, especially the moments when Tristan was going mad/experiencing something supernatural. I'm undecided if this purposefully overwrought manner is awesome or too much of a gimmick. Here's a sample:

I bade my Father's Gamekeeper bring me live Subjects for Experimentation and Study, and within a Fortnight of my Return my Cages had begun to fill, and my Laboratory to rustle. Yet, despite my stated Design, I found My Self incapable of performing a Dissection upon any of these, for the mere Effort of preparing Board and Instruments seemed beyond me. (p311)

This book is gruesome and at times, was almost too disturbing (for me) to read. Wolf -- through Tristan -- lingers over his experiments in pain, his fantasies, which are not my speed and I found this book distressing at moments -- and suuuuuuuuuuuper addictive.

While reading, I was reminded of Patrick Süskind's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Bret Easton Ellis if he adopted 18th century literary stylings, and the film Secretary.  I'm totally undecided about how I ultimately feel having finished this novel.  If you like dark, evocative, brilliant, chilling, creepy, overwrought, twisted and wicked fun, some literary gymnastics, historicals that feel historical, and very unreliable narrators, this is your book.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 4/19.


  1. Yikes, that does sound messed up.

    1. But it was so good too! (Very confusing!)

  2. Umm, this sounds like a book that's right up my alley! Why have I not heard about it before now? I'm totally entering!!

    1. I immediately thought of you -- it is really quite up your alley!

  3. Very intriguing - although I'm not sure I could handle reading an entire book written in that archaic style!

  4. That is a very weird writing style, but the book does sound kind of crazy and addictive! I am not sure if I could handle the torture scenes, but I know better than to pass up a book that you couldn't put down, so I will be reading this one, one way or the other!!

    1. It was really good -- I can't stop thinking about it!! Thankfully, the torture moments were few and far between, and while they made me wiggly with discomfort -- and in need of some sunshine and a break! -- they weren't out of bounds for the book and the story Wolf was telling.

  5. Brett Easton Ellis...isn't he the American Psycho author? Not sure I'd want to be in the same room with him :p I'm not sure I'm ready for this one. Yikes!

  6. I considered this title but decided the pain angle probably wasn't my kind of thing. Definitely intriguing and definitely original - all that intermittent capitalisation would annoy me though.

  7. I'm a bit nervous about this now, because I've seen some seriously questionable comments on the writing and subject matter, but I'm on the tour for it, so *forges ahead*

    1. Eeek! Fingers crossed -- can't wait to see what you think.

  8. This sounds so frickin good. Another reason why I wish I had not gone on hiatus. I'm so wanting this one!

  9. I will be reading this one. It reminds you of Perfume? I did not care for that one. I may be in trouble.

  10. "Okay to greatly liked ... or maybe hated with lots of like. Possibly loved. Probably loved."

    That sums up my reaction perfectly.

  11. Considering I adored Perfume I suppose I should give this one a shot then! Sounds super interesting!

  12. I just bought a copy of this one and sounds like it's going to be quite a ride!

  13. Wow, this one sounds ... creepy!

    Thanks for being on the tour Audra!


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