Results of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in the year 1997.
In 1739 James Dyer is born. He never cries, does not speak until the age of 11 and, strangest of all, cannot feel pain. When smallpox destroys his family, he joins an itinerant quack who uses him to sell bogus medicine. Then a wealthy disciple of Newton discovers James, adds him to his collection of freaks, and parades him before the scientific establishment.
With a quick and curious mind, James develops an interest in anatomy; by the age of 21, after serving under a naval doctor at sea, he has established a highly successful medical practice in Bath. A brilliant surgeon James might be, but he is a cold and heartless one. Until, en route to St. Petersburg to inoculate the Empress Catherine against smallpox, he encounters a witchlike woman with natural healing powers who becomes at once his nemesis and savior.
Science writer Joe Rose is spending a day in the country with his long-time lover, Clarissa, when he witnesses a tragic accident—a balloon with a boy trapped in it is being tossed by the wind, and, in an attempt to save the child, a man is killed. As though that isn’t disturbing enough, a man named Jed Parry, who has joined Rose in helping to bring the balloon to safety, believes that something has passed between him and Rose—something that sparks in Parry a deranged, obsessive kind of love.
Soon Parry is stalking Rose, who turns to science to try to understand the situation. Parry apparently suffers from a condition known to psychiatrists as de Clerambault Syndrome, in which the afflicted individual obsessively pursues the object of his desire until the frustrated love turns to hate and rage—transforming one of life’s most valued experiences into pathological horror. As Rose grows more paranoid and terrified, as his treasured relationship with Clarissa breaks under the tension of his fear,…[more]
“The sea is slavery,” begins Fred D’Aguiar’s powerful novel, which starts aboard the Zong, a slave ship returning from Africa in 1781. Only ten weeks into the voyage, the Zong is struck with a disease that threatens to infect all of th human cargo.
The ship’s profit-driven commander, Captain Cunningham, conceives a gruesome plan to safeguard his financial investment. In order to recover insurance money and protect the rest of the valuable stock, the captain orders his men to bring the sick and infirm slaves on deck in small numbers and throw them over the side.
During the roundup, Mintah, a young African woman raised in a Christian mission, begins to taunt Kelsal, the first mate, in whom she sees a hint of humanity. But her scheme fails, and Mintah is hurled into the sea, along with 131 other slaves. …[more]
Bernard MacLaverty brings us into the life of Catherine McKenna—estranged daughter, vexed lover, new mother, and musician making her mark in a male-dominated field. On the remote island of Islay she struggles for her artistic life in the midst of a relationship gone dangerously wrong. In Glasgow she becomes a mother and later composes a large-scale symphonic work to celebrate her child. And in her home town in Northern Ireland she returns to bury a difficult father, forge a tentative peace with her mother, and confront the ghosts of a constricting past. In part hers is a very modern spiritual journey, from superstition to sensibility.
The year is 1837 and a stranger is prowling London. He is Jack Maggs, an illegal returnee from the prison island of Australia. He has the demeanor of a savage and the skills of a hardened criminal, and he is risking his life on seeking vengeance and reconciliation.
Installing himself within the household of the genteel grocer Percy Buckle, Maggs soon attracts the attention of a cross section of London society. Saucy Mercy Larkin wants him for a mate. The writer Tobias Oates wants to possess his soul through hypnosis. But Maggs is obsessed with a plan of his own. And as all the various schemes converge, Maggs rises into the center, a dark looming figure, at once frightening, mysterious, and compelling. Not since Caleb Carr’s The Alienist have the shadowy city streets of the nineteenth century lit up with such mystery and romance.