What a thrill to read a novel by a first time author so skilled and so committed to his subject that he can reject all the conventions and still get his surprising book published–receiving rave reviews on two continents in the process!
Miller sets the book in the eighteenth century and begins with a graphic autopsy of the main character. Here he recreates the philosophical and scientific attitudes of the period, attitudes which are alien to our own, and which he will explore as a subtext throughout the book. He summarizes the life of the main character–which he spends the rest of the book recounting–in the first chapter, eliminating any climactic excitement he might have created. His main character is a man with the inability to feel pain, someone with whom the reader cannot possibly identify, and his adventures are weirdly melodramatic, so unusual the reader’s interest lies primarily in their curiosity.
Yet the book “works,” and very often thrills. Somehow he does manage to make the reader care about James Dyer and his fate, and he does create excitement in a plot which skips from small town England to the court of Russia. Miller’s masterful and controlled use of description is a primary factor in his ability to further the action of this unusual story and bring the characters and the period alive. I was awestruck by Miller’s creative daring–and by his success.
Photo: The author’s photo is from http://www.dailymail.co.uk