Andrew Taylor: The Anatomy of Ghosts (review)


‘It is wonderful that five thousand years have now elapsed since the creation of the world, and still it is undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it.’

Dr Johnson, 31 March 1778 (Boswell’s Life of Johnson)

I received this one as a present from my brother and although murder mystery is not a genre I typically read, I was sufficiently intrigued by the blurb to not only keep the book but to actually get around to reading it. And only about a year after receiving it. Pretty impressive, I have to say!

Unfortunately, the book itself was not as impressive. The plot sounds really good. It’s a historical murder mystery set in 1786. A woman has been found drowned at Jerusalem College at Cambridge. Her ghost is seen walking the grounds with disastrous consequences for a young man. This young gentleman, Frank Oldershaw, becomes so disturbed by the sight that he has to be checked into a mental facility where the doctor tries to cure him with ‘moral management’ (which seems to be a refined version of bullying. The refined being that it’s done by trained professionals, not kids).

Naturally, his mother is most concerned about this her only child so she hires John Holdsworth, author of The Anatomy of Ghosts, to investigate. Holdsworth is no stranger to ghosts and heart ache after having lost his young son in a drowning accident and only months later, the child’s mother too, after she had been claiming to see her son’s ghost.

Holdsworth goes to Cambridge to explore and to see how Frank Oldershaw is doing. He soon finds out that Jerusalem College is a world in itself with it’s own rules and class system. The Master is naturally not very interested in having rumors about female ghosts scaring the students to insanity so he is most interested in helping Holdsworth. And so is his wife. Even more so than her husband. And not just for the good of the college.

Holdsworth soon finds himself entangled in college politics while trying to figure out whether the woman died of natural causes or was helped, if the ghost was really a ghost or something else and if Frank Oldershaw has really gone mad.

See – so much potential. People drowned left and right, female ghosts, secret societies, servants, mental institutes for the well-to-do, a man going quack and even a night-soil man. It has everything in it to be a great book. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to this potential.

It really wasn’t all that exciting and even though I didn’t figure the plot out, I also didn’t care much. I felt a bit bad for poor Holdsworth having lost his wife and child but really, none of these characters were going to keep me up at night to find out their fate. The book was interesting enough to keep reading and finishing but not something to remember for very long. Also, I found the writing rather bad at times. It seemed like Taylor switched into bad romance mood with sentences like this: ‘He smiled at her and she noticed that he had a full set of teeth. He was a well-made man, she thought, with nothing flabby about him.’ (p. 145) and ‘She did not look back but she knew that he would be standing there still, beside the gate, looking through the grill at her retreating figure.’ (p. 147).

It was one of those all-right’ish books that you read, are okay entertained by but nothing special about it. And it could have been so much more.

Oh, how I wished Wilkie Collins had written this one …

  • Title: The Anatomy of Ghosts
  • Author: Andrew Taylor
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Year: 2011 (2011)
  • Pages: 472 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

Being Bad

So remember how I wrote that I didn’t feel like buying books anymore? Yeah, that’s over. Very very over. See, the thing is, about a month ago it was my birthday. I got some great gifts – among them three books I haven’t even blogged about yet. On top of that, I got some charms for a bracelet. Unfortunately, I got three identical. Luckily, I could exchange two of these for money and buy books with. So without further ado, here’s both the books I got for my birthday as well as the books I’ve just bought.

Torben Munksgaard: Sort Hund (Title in English: Black Dog)

So Sort Hund is Torben Munksgaard’s third novel. Torben was in the same year as me at university and I know how much he wanted to be a writer so I’m so happy that he succeeded. This novel is about Bernhard who’s unemployed. One day he steals a dog because he’s lonely. The dog belonged to the wealthy Albert whose wife leaves him when the dog goes missing. The dog takes Bernhard new places and soon he meets the woman of his dermas whereas Albert’s life takes a turn for the worse. Destiny? Coincidence?

Andrew Taylor: The Anatomy of Ghosts

My brother bought me this for my birthday because he thought I would like it. I had never heard of either the book or it’s author before but it sounds very interesting.

1786, Jerusalem College Cambridge.

The ghost of Sylvia Whichcote is rumoured to be haunting Jerusalem since disturbed fellow-commoner, Frank Oldershaw, claims to have seen the dead woman prowling the grounds.

Desperate to salvage her son’s reputation, Lady Anne Oldershaw employs John Holdsworth, author of The Anatomy of Ghosts – a stinging account of why ghosts are mere delusion – to investigate. But his arrival in Cambridge disrupts an uneasy status quo as he glimpses a world of privilege and abuse, where the sinister Holy Ghost Club governs life at Jerusalem more effectively than the Master, Dr Carbury, ever could.

And when Holdsworth finds himself haunted – not only by the ghost of his dead wife, Maria, but also Elinor, the very-much-alive Master’s wife – his fate is sealed. He must find Sylvia’s murderer or the hauntings will continue. And not one of them will leave the claustrophobic confines of Jerusalem unchanged.

The Complete Illustrated Lewis Carroll

Well, as the title say, this is the complete and illustrated version of all of Lewis Carroll’s work. Here we have Alice Adventures in WonderlandThrough the Looking-Glass & What Alice Found ThereSylvie and BrunoSylvie and Bruno ConcludedRhyme and Reason as well as Miscellaneous Works. I don’t even know half of these – all I know is Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass & What Alice Found There. I’m not even sure if I’ve ever read Alice but now I have the chance, thanks to my brother.

Patrick Rothfuss: The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two)

I have such high hopes for this series so I’ve been putting off reading the first one because I want to read them together. I don’t know if I can wait ’till the third one comes out but now, at least, I have the two first. The third volume is due out May 1st 2013. And btw, I love the covers to my editions!

My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.

The man was lost. The myth remained. Kvothe – the dragon-slayer, the renowned swordsman, the most feared, famed and notorious wizard the world has ever seen – vanished without warning and without trace. And even now, when he has been found, when darkness is rising in the corners of the world, he will not return.

But his story lives on and, for the first time, Kvothe is going to tell it…

Jonathan Safran Foer: Everything is Illuminated

I recently read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Loud and loved it. After finishing that, I knew I had to read more by Safran Foer and when I spotted Everything is Illuminated in the bookstore while shopping with my birthday money, I didn’t hesitate but grabbed it immediately. And since the main protagonist is named the same as the author, it reminded me of the Peter Høeg novel I read recently and the ambiguity between fiction and reality that can happen in such cases and which I find very interesting.

With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man — also named Jonathan Safran Foer — sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior; and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

John Irving: In One Person

I think I have raved so much about this novel that I hardly need to continue to do so before I actually pick up the book and read it and find out if it’s actually rave-worthy. Suffice to say, I bought it.

A compelling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a “sexual suspect,” a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of “terminal cases,” The World According to Garp. His most political novel since The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving’s In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy’s friends and lovers—a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself “worthwhile.”

China Miéville: Railsea

I’ve read Un Lun Dun and The City & The City and really liked them both. I’m so very impressed by Miéville’s creativity and his ability to use his creativity to create unique settings for his stories. So when I spotted his new novel, it too made it’s way home with me.

On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory. But no matter how spectacular it is, Sham can’t shake the sense that there is more to life than traveling the endless rails of the railsea–even if his captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it’s a welcome distraction. But what Sham finds in the derelict—a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible—leads to considerably more than he’d bargained for. Soon he’s hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham’s life that’s about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.

So that’s it for me. These were my new acquisitions. Such great books. But this also means that my to-read list is back up at 179 books again – not including The Flame Alphabet since I haven’t gotten it into my home yet. But 179 … so back to working my way back again… (But great, great books!!!)

Btw – if anyone is interested in a Wordsworth Classics version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (paperback), never been read, I have one to spare now I got the Hardcover complete and illustrated one. Let me know and it’s yours for the taking. 🙂

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