Clio Gray’s latest novel The Anatomist’s Dream
Nominated for this year’s Man Booker Prize,
Clio Gray’s latest novel The Anatomist’s Dream is a richly detailed historical roller coaster set in the years building up to the 1848 Revolutions. Punctuated with the violence of the times, the story follows Philbert – a boy with a misshapen head – who joins a Freakshow-come-Fair, where he finds companionship with others forced to live on the edges of society.
The screams, when they started, were only somewhat out of place, and nobody took much notice until that anger-spun woman came yelling through the mud and carts, her children’s children hanging like an overweight necklace from her thin shoulders, cursing with all her might the iniquities of the state and the scourge of taxes and the wickedness of the world that had taken so much from her and left her with only poverty and starvation for companions. There was no doubting the woman had gone mad on her trek out from Berlin, drawing that pack of soldiers behind her like hornets after honey.
The woman’s voice was hoarse as a boar’s by the time she skidded into the mud at Philbert’s feet, her throat still wobbling with all the words she could no longer get out, shaking with frustration as she tried to pick herself up, untangle her legs from her skirts and grandchildren as the soldiers came crashing along the cartways, knocking people over, upsetting stalls, sending gaming boards flying, spilling all their tiny counters and carved wooden figures into the ruck of wet grass and mud.
Philbert scooped up one of the woman’s dropped grandchildren as the hooves hove into view, the sweat and froth of the wild-eyed horses trampling the other child beneath them as they got that woman nicely caught between their flanks, her fists still flailing, hair all gone wild and getting into her mouth as she found the strength again to scream about injustice and starvation and the families that had been butchered on the streets of Berlin. It didn’t last long, those men having done all this before, and they caught her up by her hair and hauled her behind one of the horses with a rope, firing a few more shots at random into the air until her fellow Berliners came forward one by one, eking themselves out from the rest of the Fair, not wanting the people who had taken them in to hang with them. ‘I see you, woman,’ he said, no colour to his voice, no anger, nor compassion or regret. He merely took his pistol from his belt, finally bringing an end to the drama by firing a shot through the back of her neck.
Many years later, Philbert could still recall lying there beside the woman and her dead children, looking at the dappled, mud-splattered underside of that great horse, the twist at the right side of the girth-strap, the shine of the man’s boots and the neat tie of their buckles, the soft leather of his gaiters reaching from heel to knee, the harsh catch of new breath as Maulwerf hauled him by the rope to one side and sliced through the knot with his knife, the enormity of the following barrage of shots and the sudden release of the noose making his ears bleed, so that all that he could hear as the soldiers cleared out was a subdued wave of outrage, men and women weeping as they dragged the Berliners’ corpses to one side, the sharp slice and thud of spades going through grass as their collective grave was dug.
Such were the times in which they lived, and all this happened again and again before the real revolution began. Philbert couldn’t know then that he would play a small but vital part in that revolution, as the trigger is a small but vital part of a gun. And it was such a small thing he would do, such a small mistake, yet it sent other men in other towns upon his heels with their own ropes in their hands and their own pistols at the ready on their belts, pursuing him far harder and more relentlessly than ever they had done this woman from Berlin.
A single flake of snow can start an avalanche, so goes the saying, and for every deluge there must, of necessity, be a first drop of rain to set it off. Snow and rain, so was Philbert.The start of snow and rain.
For more about Clio and her books, go to www.cliogray.com
The Anatomist’s Dream is published by Myrmidon, available in hardback & ebook,
with paperback due out next year.