Ever wondered what it would be like to dig up a fresh grave and snatch the body? Well… even if you haven’t, I can still highly recommend Doug MacLeod’s The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher.
I picked up a copy of this YA book for two reasons.
- I really liked the cover. Yes, a rather superficial reason — but I can be as superficial as the next person (depending, of course, on who that next person is). Anyway, it is a rather atmospheric cover, and I thought the contents deserved a chance.
- I met the author, Doug MacLeod, at a book signing. I had a chat with him and decided that since he was witty and interesting, so too might his book be. And guess what? It was!
Thomas Timewell’s grandfather has died. The old man had wanted his body donated to science, but Thomas’s mother circumvented the will and had him buried. So Thomas decides to dig him up in order to fulfil his wishes. As he is doing so, Thomas encounters a body-snatcher (or resurrectionist) calling himself Plenitude. This meeting results in Thomas’s life taking an unexpected turn. Embarking on a resurrectionist career, he finds himself pursued by murderous rival body-snatchers, an insane, devilishly tattooed gypsy, and even the Grim Reaper himself. Along the way he manages, amongst other things, to contribute to the death of a schoolteacher, wade through human-head sludge, defend his best friend, insult a famous author, buy a dozen oysters and even fall in love.
Wit, drama, tragedy and pathos combine in this difficult to put down book. The humour is an integral part of the story but is never self-conscious or distracting, and the other elements of the story work very nicely with it. The historical detail is terrific and you really get a sense of being in England in the early 19th Century.
There is much to recommend this novel, but it is the characterisation that makes it sparkle. Thomas Timewell, the titular teenage body-snatcher, is likeable and interesting. It is easy to sympathise with his woes, chuckle at his wry observations and cheer him on in his endeavours. Plenitude, the resurrectionist, is also likeable despite his occupation (perhaps even because of it) and the doubts cast over his actions and motivations. There are also a host of supporting characters, each with their own little quirks. And although the character oddities are humorous, they are never so over-the-top as to render the characters unbelievable.
My particular favourites are Thomas’s mother, Mrs Timewell, and her two friends, Mrs Greenough and Mrs Tilley. Mrs Greenough fervently denounces all those who drink alcohol while spending most of her time somewhere between tipsy and sloshed. Mrs Tilley takes a little too much interest in Thomas, and indeed, any other good-looking teenage boys she encounters. Meanwhile, Mrs Timewell’s addiction to laudanum plays havoc with her memory, resulting in her need to write everything down in a journal. She is a particularly well-rounded character for whom I came to feel greatly, especially upon the revelation of the reasons for her addiction. Balancing humour and tragedy is no easy task — but MacLeod makes it appear effortless.
Can you tell that I LOVED THIS BOOK! Go out and buy a copy… right now! In fact, why not buy two? You never know when a spare one may come in handy.
And tune in next time for a visit from Doug.
Catch ya later, George
PS. Follow me on twitter… or I’ll insist you buy me a dozen oysters.