Imagine all your favourite mythic creatures: pegasus, mermaid, centaur, sphinx, minotaur. Now imagine them laid out on a mortician’s table: dissected, given Latin medical labels, and analyzed in terms of their unique muscular and skeletal makeup. This is what we’re offered in the second part of E. B. Hudspeth’s The Resurrectionist in the section titled The Codex Extinct Animalia.
This intriguing novel does its best to defy categorization. Part One reads like a nonfiction textbook piecing together the biography of controversial 19th-century surgeon Dr. Spenser Black. Through reproduced letters, newspaper clippings and exhibition flyers we chart Black’s life: his early career as a stellar young surgeon, his marriage and the birth of his son; and then his rapid descent into infamy, gaining a reputation as a splicer of anatomies and an eccentric who believed that the creatures from our myths are in fact our evolutionary ancestors. Part Two presents his extensive drawings and writings, though it is left up to the reader to decide whether Black was a visionary or a madman.
The book’s beautifully macabre images capture the imagination instantly, but where Hudspeth really impresses is in the utter believability of Dr. Black’s story. The narrative is furnished with a fictional note from the publishers, and Black’s biography neatly intertwines with real 19th-century events. The Resurrectionist channels the aesthetics of Edgar Allan Poe while playing with form in the manner of Jorge Luis Borges. While the novel’s publisher Quirk Books has given us a wealth of visual treats in the last few years, The Resurrectionist still feels like the most immersive and fully realized book in their catalogue. – Damien McLaughlin
The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Spencer Black
by E. B. Hudspeth
2013, 192 pages, 7.8 x 10.8 x 0.8 inches
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