The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones | Jack Wolf

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf is a a literary historical.

Explosive, transgressive and wildly inventive, Jack Wolf’s novel THE TALE OF THE RAW HEAD AND BLOODY BONES (Penguin Original; March 26, 2013; 978-0-14-312382-8; $16.00; also available as an ebook) is arrestingly authentic. UK based author  Jack Wolf, who wrote the novel as a woman and has since transitioned to being a man, has fully embraced both the language and ideas of eighteenth-century England to create a beautiful and startling novel that contemplates questions of good and evil, faith and science,  that are still relevant today. Moreover, while it does not explicitly deal with issues of gender identity, Wolf’s experience of transitioning from female to male is reflected in the writing, in particular in its focus on identity and what it feels like to be uncomfortable in one’s own skin.

I can see why the way it’s written -using period spelling and capitalisation (though fortunately not the most extreme versions) could put an unaware or unexperienced person off. But I strongly advise you to try to get through it, like I advise people to try with Wuthering Heights (if you can get through that you can get through this. At least this isn’t in dialect).

Provided for free by Penguin Group through NetGalley.

I really struggled with this, hence the long gap between my acquiring the book and my review. It’s a difficult book, not just in the language, but in the pace and the themes. A long book like this is always going to be a slow starter, but I wasn’t, at the beginning, entirely sure we had started. I got the concepts that Wolf was going for fairly early on, and became frustrated when the viewpoint character couldn’t see it as clearly as I could.

Once you get into it, the writing is beautiful. So many authors would use the fact of writing in an archaic form of the language to ignore poetry, meanignful metaphor, or truthful description, but Wolf doesn’t, and the result can be something magical at times. I warn you, that this descriptive ability could put a person off who doesn’t want to read about the darker desires of the human being – the desire to hurt, to cause suffering. Also, there are some quite forthright descriptions of prostitution and BDSM within, so be aware.

Plot wise it’s a slow but good ‘un, with many interesting and exciting twists and turns. It’s solidly constructed, with no major WTF moments. It also manages to discuss gender, class and other, related subjects without ever falling into the trap of inappropriate attitudes for the era. No politically correct history here! But there is an intelligent use of the attitudes of the time to examine our own, modern attitudes which I very much approved of.

So, this is a damn fine book, and you should probably read it. 4 out of 5.

A reminder: we’re at one book review a week until I’ve caught up on my reading list enough to go back to two or three.

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