The Anatomist’s Dream – Clio Grey

‘It’s a taupe,’ announced the doctor, poking at the lump with which a scratchy yellow finger, ‘a French tumour they call it, though couldn’t rightly tell you why. Most unusual – got a bit of hair growing on it too, see here?

Several strands grew, wet-wisped, from a lump the size and shape of a duck’s egg at the bottom of the baby’s head.

‘Might kill him,’ the doctor carried on with scientific stoicism. ‘But probably not, most likely grow a-pace with the rest of him. My goodness though, he does rather resemble the back end of a baboon, don’t you think?’

Philbert is born with a ‘monstrous head’. His mother, who had already named the daughter she thought she was pregnant with, rejects him, returning to work and leaving him with the woman next door. Eventually abandoned by his mother – who runs away with her French lover – and his heartbroken father, Philbert is brought up by Frau Kranz, the neighbour.

The much-anticipated arrival of a carnival in town coincides with Frau Kranz’s realisation that she is dying and that the rest of the town are sharpening their knives, their eyes on Philbert’s pet pig, Kroonk. She sends ‘her Little Maus’ to the fair, anticipating that their love of the unusual will guarantee Philbert a role.


Philbert travels with the fair, making friends with several of the characters, until the day Kwert arrives. Kwert is a ‘Tospirologist and Teller of Signs’. When he places his hands on Philbert’s taupe, Philbert sees scenes from his childhood that he can’t possibly remember.

‘I feel great things for you, Philbert,’ Kwert whispered […] ‘There are many things to come, my little Philbert. I see the shadows of yesterday and tomorrow rising up around you, and it will be hard for you to find your way. But if you’ll grant it, I’ll guide you through the start of your journey and your achievements will be of great wonder.’

What Kwert doesn’t tell Philbert is that before these ‘achievements […] of great wonder’, there will be a number of difficult and dangerous situations which will change Philbert forever.

The Anatomist’s Dream is a tale of how someone’s difference can cause remarkable situations for them and those who come into contact with them. It considers the political situation of the time, which Philbert inadvertently becomes involved in, and the consequences of challenging the status quo.

Philbert’s story is an interesting one – at times it reminded me of Frankenstein – but there were points, particularly in the second half of the book, where there was just too much going on. Events came thick and fast with a huge cast of characters whom I found difficult to distinguish from each other and the plot, which at its core involved a journey, felt as though it was going in a loop rather than forwards. Essentially the novel does loop round as Philbert finds his way back to the fair; it was these sections set in the carnival which I found the strongest. They helped form Philbert and then became indicative of how much he’d changed.

The Anatomist’s Dream touches on themes of belonging, politics and religion. It’s uneven in the telling but nevertheless an interesting concept with an unusual protagonist.


Thanks to Myrmidon for the review copy.

In the Media, April 2016, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.


There’s been a strong narrative about the abuse of women over the last fortnight. Jessica Knoll wrote a personal and powerful essay about the gang rape which informed the writing of her novel Luckiest Girl Alive. What I Know‘ was published on Lena Dunham’s site Lenny. Daisy Buchanan interviewed Knoll for The Pool. Jia Tolentino looked at the reporting of abuse in ‘Is this the End of the Era of the Important, Inappropriate Literary Man‘ on Jezebel. Helen Walmsley-Johnson wrote ‘The shame of abuse has held me hostage for years‘ on The Pool; Kathryn Joyce wrote ‘Out Here, No One Can Hear You Scream‘ on The Huffington Post; Jade Blair wrote, ‘Women Do What They Need To Do To Survive‘ on Hazlitt, and Louise O’Neill wrote ‘Nothing could prepare me for what happened when I published my book‘ on The Pool and ‘What a privilege it is to think that I might have touched other peoples lives in some small way‘ in The Irish Examiner. (The later is O’Neill’s weekly column which I’ve now added to the regulars section at the bottom of the post.)

The 2015 VIDA count for the number of bylines and reviews for female writers in literary magazines was announced. There’s some good news in some areas but, overall, there’s still a long way to go. Rachel McCarthy James followed this with, ‘Women in Publishing 100 Years Ago: A Historical VIDA Count: Representation and Gender (Im)Balance in 1916‘ on Literary Hub

The longlist for the Desmond Elliott Prize was announced with seven books by female writers in the running.


The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:


Personal essays/memoir:




Society and Politics:


Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:


The interviews:


The regular columnists:

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2016

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016 Longlisted Books1

8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

Here they are, the 20 books longlisted for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. In alphabetical order (of author’s surname):

A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

Whispers Through a Megaphone – Rachel Elliott

The Green Road – Anne Enright

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Gorsky – Vesna Goldsworthy

The Anatomist’s Dream – Clio Gray

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

Pleasantville – Attica Locke

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie

Girl at War – Sara Nović

The House at the Edge of the World – Julia Rochester

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

My initial reaction is that the three books I thought were certs are all on there – A God in Ruins, My Name Is Lucy Barton and A Little Life. Very pleased to see all three.

I predicted six of the titles, which is my highest success rate ever! Very pleased to see Girl at War on the list as well as The Portable Veblen. I’ve enjoyed all those I’ve already read, which includes The Green Road which I haven’t posted my review for yet.

As for the rest of the list, I’m delighted to see Pleasantville – I loved Black Water Rising and have had the latest on my TBR pile for ages. I’ve also heard good things from people I trust about The Book of Memory, At Hawthorn Time and The Glorious Heresies.

As always with The Bailey’s Prize there are some books I hadn’t heard of before I saw the list. My absolute favourite part of this is reading those titles, there’s always one in there that surprises me with its brilliance. On looking through the blurbs, I can’t believe I hadn’t come across Ruby, it’s had so many fantastic reviews, and The Anatomist’s Dream is perfect for my PhD thesis so I’m very pleased it’s come to my attention.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the reading and debating the books with the rest of the shadow panel. I’m hoping you’ll join in the discussion on our blogs and Twitter too. Can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of the chosen titles.