The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones

Five words from the blurb: medicine, faeries, superstition, pain, darkness

I don’t normally mention debut novels that I fail to finish, but this one has played on my mind. Books that evoke a strong reaction are far better than boring ones, so please take my opinion as a positive and give it a try – I’d love to discuss it!

The first 75 pages of this book were fantastic. I was instantly drawn in to the story – it reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but Raw Head was more gripping. The writing was wonderfully atmospheric and felt realistic for the time period.

‘A Gnome. How did he appear, this Gnome?’
‘Like the Tutor, but tiny. Highly entertaining.’
‘Verily, you were mistaken,’ Nathaniel said, idly ripping a Spray of Elderberries from the Hedge. ‘Because a Gnome is not at all amusing. Nor doth he resemble a shrunken Tutor. No, no, dear Tristan, the ordinary, every-daye, commonplace English Gnome is a tiny brown Creature with a Visage like a pickled Walnut, who, like all Faeries, hath very sharp Teeth. And an exceedingly foul Temper.’

So what went wrong?

About 75 pages in, the central character raped a woman. I’ve read lots of books containing rape scenes. I’ve even read some written from the perspective of the rapist. What I can’t understand is why this scene offended me so much – it wasn’t even particularly graphic. I continued reading the book and it quickly became clear that the central character enjoyed inflicting pain on others, particularly women. It almost seemed to glorify violence. I normally enjoy books that give an insight into the mind of others, no matter how evil they are (I even liked The Kindly Ones) so what I’ve been trying to work out is what line this book crossed? Was it simply that I wasn’t expecting it? Do I object to rape scenes in historical fiction? Did it just treat the subject in too light a manner? I can’t work it out! I hope that someone (who isn’t easily offended) will read this book and give me some insight.

I abandoned the book after about 150 pages as I couldn’t inflict another 400 pages of this violence on myself.  Perhaps everything is redeemed by the ending? If you’ve finished this book I’d love to know if a meaningful conclusion is reached.

Did not finish

Have you read this book?

What did you think of it?

I haven’t seen any blog reviews for this book yet, but the press appears to be very positive:

Those of strong stomach and vivid imagination will find glittering delights in here. Lloyd Shepherd in the Guardian

A startlingly, subversively original writer.  Gerard Woodward

Wolf is a superb storyteller who sucks the reader into his fascinating imagination. The Times


10 replies on “The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf”

Stu, Yes. I wish I knew why the violence was present. I felt as though I was missing the point, but didn’t want to have to read 400+ pages to work out what that point was! (if any?)

I don’t know what to say about this one. This doesn’t sound like a book that I would bother reading. Violence is one thing but senseless violence? It’s not my thing. Thanks for posting your views on this one.

Vasilly, There might be good reason for the violence – I was hoping someone might let me know what it was. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened yet, but it sounds as though this one isn’t for you.

From what you’ve said it sounds like it crossed an invisible line – you’ve wondered if it treated the subject in too light a manner, perhaps that was it? Violence without a reason can work in a book if you’re given the mindset, but it sounds like that was lacking here.

Charlie, Perhaps I was just in the wrong frame of mind for it? Maybe the marketing was wrong? It did mention the love for inflicting pain, but I wasn’t really aware of how the book would develop. Shame as it had such a promising start.

I’ve not read this book, but I will say that I am exceptionally sensitive to depictions of rape in fiction. It’s not because of anything in my personal history, I just find it really difficult and upsetting to read rape scenes. I am very, very bothered by how frequently rape is used as a characterization device, and handled fairly lightly by the author. I know that this is true of lots of kinds of trauma, and I’m not sure why this one in particular upsets me, but I have stopped reading more than one book after encountering a rape scene.

(Even I have never watched The Sopranos, a show I know is good and a show I’d probably enjoy, because I once saw an episode that featured rape. I thought the show handled it well and didn’t make light of it (although I don’t know how they dealt with it in subsequent episodes) and made interesting points about morality and stuff. I had no problem with the narrative within which the rape occurred, but I still feel freaked out and unhappy when I think about that show.)

Jenny, It sounds as if we share similar thoughts on this subject. I hadn’t read a book that treated rape in such a light manner until now – I must have been lucky in avoiding them. I don’t mind books that contain violence as long as it serves a good purpose. Unfortunately I couldn’t see the point in this book.

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