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The Electric Michelangelo
The Electric Michelangelo
Booker Shortlisted 2004. In the uniquely sensuous and lyrical prose that has already become her trademark, Sarah Halls remarkable new novel opens on the windswept front of Morecambe Bay and takes the reader to the riotous world of the Coney Island boardwalk.
Hugely atmospheric, exotic and familiar, this book is a love story and an exquisitely rendered portrait of seaside resorts on opposite sides of the Atlantic by one of hte most talented novelists of her generation.
Faber and Faber
'The tattooist creates a living picture on flesh. The needle repeatedly pierces the skin. As ink is injected, blood oozes out. It is a painful process which the recipient must endure for the sake of the art. The tattooist is an artist, the body a canvas and the painting the story of a man.s life.
Eliot Riley was the most famous tattooist in the north of England. He was a drunken, dissolute, disreputable freehander, tattooing without stencils, living in a hovel above his cramped workshop in Pedder Street, Morecambe, in the 1920.s. His demons were stilled only when he held the electric needle in his hand and then the customer lay and waited while Eliot distilled the glory and degradation of his life into a trace of ink across the living flesh that became part of the body and could not be erased.
Cyril Parks was mysteriously drawn to the man, became his apprentice for many years, suffering the insults, learning the craft, painfully using the needle on himself, writing his own life story, the sadness and the loss, on his own body.
His life had begun with blood, the bloody sputum of tubercular patients, coughing up blood daily, as they breathed the sea-air and waited to die in his mother.s guest-house in Morecambe. Cy cleared away and emptied the vessels, living as a boy, darkly, alongside the mysteries of life and death, his mother.s support of the suffragettes, the strange cries and loss of back-street abortions, his mother.s death from cancer.
His childhood was spent on the streets. He was fatherless. His father had perished in a shipping accident before Cy was born. Cy trespassed on the quicksands of the Bay, experimented with their powerful sucking forces and was saved by shedding his shoes and trousers and holding on to his friends.
Morecambe was a working class haven of fun falling into drunken decline. Darkness and death, drunkenness and depravity were as inevitable as the tide that would cover the vast waste of sand.
A vengeful mallet crushed the bones of Eliot.s artistic hand. He died. Cy left for America and amid the threatening phantasmagoria of Coney Island, he became the Electric Michelangelo, tracing life in electric pulses of ink on weeping flesh in a cramped fairground booth. Coney Island offers the possibility of love and fulfilment in the form of Grace and her dreamlike horse, but the dark eyes with which Cy tenderly tattoos her body, are destroyed by acid, and Cy returns to Morecambe.
Sarah Hall.s second novel is no ordinary work of fiction. It is a poetically ambitious story dwelling on the demons that drive the artist. The backdrops of illness and death, drunkenness and debauchery, and the anarchy of childhood and the fairground are distilled by the artist and become his work.
The story is written with an almost demonic energy, flooding the page with an imagery that draws constantly on the failings and depravity of the flesh. Sarah Hall.s language has a remarkable vitality as though she is totally possessed by the subject. She writes as though, like Cy, she .might go mad with the knowledge of too much brutality, the violations, the ripping up of hearts and minds and bodies. All the terrible information his needle bit into, all the secrets it lanced. All the memories of people who had come to him and bled their history, which he recorded like a photograph album or a diary of pictures on their bodies..
Sarah Hall.s first novel, Haweswater, about the flooding of Mardale, set in the area where she grew up, won the Commonwealth Prize for a first novel. In The Electric Michelangelo Sarah Hall has found her own voice and it is a powerful voice charged with the imagery of the dark side of life.
The Electric Michelangelo has been short-listed for the Booker Prize. It marks Sarah Hall out as one of the more ambitious novelists of her generation.' - Steve Matthews, Bookcase.
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