Now in paperback, this potent mystery draws readers into a tangle of lost loves, vengeance, and murder. Set in the dark world of a European winter, and illuminated with Barbara Hodgson's haunting illustrations, The Sensualist is a visual and literary exploration of the limitations of looking and the boundless power of seeing.
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Helen Martin, an art historian who's particularly taken with medical illustrations, has left the New World in search of her mysteriously absent husband, Martin Evans. The two have been apart many times before (he's a journalist after all), but this time no one, not even his mother, knows where he has gone. The novel begins with the feverish Helen snaking by train across Europe on the way to Martin's last known location, Vienna. Along the way, she becomes entangled in a plot involving a murder in an anatomical art museum.
This sounds, at first glance, like the premise of a run-of-the-mill missing-persons detective story. But Barbara Hodgson embellishes this simple tale with a baroque narrative style that suggests a symbolic order to Helen's anxious search. The mystery entwines with Helen's metaphysical and emotional quest for solace after the death of her relationship. Helen becomes obsessed with bodies--her own and those of her fellow travelers: "Helen woke up wearing someone else's eyes. Eyes that shattered her orbs into a thousand piercing splinters, that shook her balance off its pivot and flung her headlong into a mercurial fog." In several similar waking scenes, Helen imagines her breasts swelling and shrinking or her body parts mingling with others' as they look on. Throughout the book, she sees and feels and tastes and touches with fine-grained detail, and her bizarre body consciousness moves so easily from a dreamlike fantasy back into the prose of the mystery narrative that a dogmatic reader is apt to become frustrated if he or she demands a dogged pursuit of clues and solutions. But straightforward mystery is not Hodgson's method. The intersubjectivity of her characters is drawn in a poetic language that, like the exquisite and macabre color illustrations interlaced with the text, are meant to estrange sensory experiences and evoke consciousness of embodied existence. Hodgson's first book, The Tattooed Map (1995), was a similarly rich book of illustrations and intelligent prose, but The Sensualist is a more robust novel, a sophisticated artistic achievement that represents a significant literary talent. --Patrick O'KelleyAbout the Author:
Barbara Hodgson is a Vancouver-based writer, photographer, and designer. Her illustrated novels include The Tattooed Map, The Sensualist, and Hippolyte's Island.
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