The Giant, O’Brien by

7 October 2008

Genre: , ,
ISBN: 038525895X See also: Elsewhere ; RIP III

“Bring in the cows now. Time to shut up for the night”.
There came three cows, breathing in the near-dark: swishing with the tips of their tails, their bones showing through hide.

This book isn’t labelled as horror; I’m guessing you are more likely to find it in the fiction or literary fiction section of a bookshop rather than the horror or even historical fiction section. But it fits under both. If you ask me.

The Giant of the title is based on the real life story of Charles Byrne but this is never intended to follow his life story. The real Byrne merely provides the inspiration. Along with the real John Hunter, real-life surgeon and anatomist. What Mantel does is use their stories as a jumping off point, an examination of the characters and their times. So of course it makes no pretence at being a real story.

Where this book does turn toward horror is in its descriptions of the characters and their desires. Hunter wants the body of the giant. He wants nothing more than to collect and dissect the strange and the unique. And the real horror comes from the giant’s friends, who conspire against him. But it is also a blend of the fantastic and the real. O’Brien is a story-teller. When exhibiting himself he amuses the spectators with stories. He passes the evenings with his friends telling various tales. In them he tells various fairy tales, of changeling children, and of the “gentlefolk”.

But it wasn’t really the story that kept me reading this book. It was Mantel’s style of writing. She really makes even the difficult wonderful to read.

It is the dead themselves who move him to tears…He wants to haul them back, with iron hooks. He wants to question them: where? He wants to know if there is a soul and if the soul can split from the body and if so, what is its mechanism for getting out-a usual orifice or permeation through the skin? What is the weight of the soul? If you pushed him, he’d guess a couple of ounces, not more

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3 Responses

  1. Carl V. says:

    I have not heard of this book but wow does it sound intriguing. I can certainly see why you would say that it fits the horror classification even if not shelved there. I'll be putting this on my list.

  2. Fence says:

    I'm a big fan of Mantel's, she has a great style of writing. Beyond Black is another that I'd really recommend.

  3. jean pierre says:

    oh wow! this looks very very different indeed! thanks for the review :D