The mid-18th century was a dark time. Life was often worth very little and the nascent age of science was yet to mature into the elder statesman we know it as today.
Into this era was born Tristan Hart, a young man obsessed with pain, the purity of its expression and how to prevent it. He studies under the famous Doctor William Hunter in London but spends almost as much time in a local bawdy house where there are women willing to be tortured, for the right price. Soon Tristan can no longer be aroused unless he is inflicting pain upon a woman.
Into his life comes a young girl of 14 – whom he initially believes to be only twelve years old – who self-harms and is his equal in a desire for pain.
Hart is, undoubtedly, mad but it is to Wolf’s credit that we are left to wonder exactly where Tristan’s madness ends and real life, however twisted it might be, begins.
This is a very dark book and the age of Hart’s amour sits uncomfortably in a post-Saville society, but as someone once said, the past is another country and they certainly did things differently then.
The Tale of Raw Head & Bloody Bones reads like an 18th century American Psycho – without the references to Huey Lewis and The News. Hart is as obsessed with his appearance as Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. In fact, he spends much of his time trying to ensure that his appearance is that of a precociously talented student doctor, and not of a man haunted by a shape-shifting gypsy woman, goblins and the constant beating of a spectral drum.
Jack Wolf has taken the traditional folk tale of Rawhead and Bloody Bones and turned it into a tour de force of gothic horror. The language and punctuation used is as one would expect from the era, yet still for a modern reader’s ear.
If you like horror and historical fiction and you’re not *too* squeamish, I couldn’t recommend The Tale of Rawhead & Bloody Bones more highly.