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Ingenious Pain


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Andrew Miller's extraordinarily acclaimed and prizewinning debut, featuring an 18th-century surgeon who is unable to feel pain

About the Author

Andrew Miller was born in Bristol in 1960. INGENIOUS PAIN, his debut novel, was first published by Sceptre in 1997 and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, the International IMPAC Award and the Grinzane Cavour prize in Italy. His second novel, CASANOVA, met with similar acclaim on its publication in 1998 and he has since published OXYGEN, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Novel Award, and the highly praised THE OPTIMISTS.


Conceived during a rape on a frozen river bank in the English west country in 1739 and raised in a small farming village, James Dyer proves to be a freak of nature, a man-boy who cannot feel pain. In spite of his affliction, or "gift," depending on how you look at it, James proves a bright fellow and, following a stint in the Royal Navy, becomes a highly successful surgeon whose skill with a knife is offset only by his coldness of emotion. Not knowing pain himself, he cannot understand it in others. Then, he encounters a witchlike woman in the forests of Eastern Europe who literally reaches inside of him and gives him knowledge of pain and suffering‘and with it, joy and beauty and the understanding of what it is to be human. With its stylistic flourishes and realistic evocation of life in the 18th century, Miller's first novel bodes well for his future; readers will be entertained despite the abrupt ending. Recommended for public and larger academic libraries.‘David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersberg, Fla.

'Set in the mid-18th century, at the dawn of the Enlightenment, and roving through England, Europe and Russia, it presents James Dyer, a man whose absence of compassion is physical: he can't feel pain...gripping throughout...a book that gives visceral pleasure' Independent on Sunday 'Miller's juxtaposition of the weirdly wonderful with the harsh reality and brutality of eighteenth-century life is a powerful vehicle for the themes he has chosen to explore...A dazzling debut' Observer 'Strange, unsettling, sad, beautiful, and profound' Literary Review 'Skilfully constructed, reaching imaginative heights and emotional depths, this fine first novel explores the question of what it means to be human' The Times Literary Supplement 'Brilliant and stands head and shoulders above most of the novels which will be published this spring season' Financial Times 'Dazzling...Miller tackles notions of mortality and humanity to brilliant effect...truly wonderful' Evening Standard 'Exceptionally intelligent and elegant...remarkable for its feeling and its humane sensibility' The Sunday Times 'An extraordinary first novel' The New York Times Book Review (an) 'extraordinary first novel, as entertaining as it is original and ambitious' 'I cannot think why it has not won every fiction prize going' 'Miller conveys a lively and authentic sense of the period while creating a timeless and thought-provoking fable about human nature' 'Although the historical context is meticulously drawn, and James Dyer's incredible talents are made real by being described in matter-of-fact terms, the novel also acknowledges another world of dark spirits and magical powers.' Anne Chisholm, The Spectator 'Like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Ingenious Pain is grounded in a kind of gothic horror and probes looming, disconcerting questions about the nature of the human psyche and human behaviour. Weaving Dyers's story around a series of cruel, benelvolent and mysterious characters, Miller taps into both the coldly macabre and gently emotional.' Joanne Hayden, Sunday Business Post 'A brilliantly realised and researched achievement...The infusion of magic into the mundane leaves the taste of 'Ingenious Pain' lingering on the palate.' Magill 'A wild adventure through 18th-century England and Russia, medicine, madness, landscape and weather, rendered in prose of consummate beauty.' -- Independent Books of the Year 'Dazzling ... Miller tackles notions of mortality and humanity to brilliant effect ... truly wonderful' -- Evening Standard 'Astoundingly good ... it shines like a beacon among the grey dross of much contemporary fiction' -- The Times 'A really remarkable first novel, original, powerfully written ... Miller's narrative is gripping and his imagination extraordinary.' -- Sunday Telegraph 'A timeless and thought-provoking fable about human nature ... It is something very rare in modern fiction, a true work of art.' -- Spectator 'Strange, unsettling, sad, beautiful, and profound' -- Literary Review

Miller's debut novel is a bildungsroman with an inventive twist. His 18th-century hero, James Dyer, is incapable of feeling pain or experiencing pleasure. Unlike most coming-of-age novels, which detail the emotional pains of the protagonist as he matures, this one charts the stark vicissitudes of Dyer's life, through which he moves impassively, feeling neither physical sensations nor emotions of any kind. Dyer is conceived when his mother is raped by a mysterious stranger; born in 1739 in a small Devon village, he neither cries nor speaks. After most of his family dies in a smallpox epidemic, Dyer becomes the shill of Marley Gummer, an itinerant quack who sells a pain-relieving medicine by demonstrating that the boy feels nothing even when he's burned or tortured. Next, Dyer becomes the protégé of Mr. Canning, a disciple of Newton and a wealthy collector of freaks. But it's not until Dyer discovers anatomy that he finds his true calling and becomes a surgeon, albeit one with the reputation of an automaton. His heartlessness extends to personal affairs, for he betrays a kind benefactor with cool disdain. During a journey to St. Petersburg to inoculate the Empress Catherine against smallpox, Dyer rescues a woman named Mary, who is buried in the snow. Mary has natural healing powers and introduces Dyer to the pain of memory-which afflicts him like madness, for which he is incarcerated in Bedlam-and the experience of love, which ends tragically. Eventually, he is to feel happiness, but his rebirth makes him fundamentally vulnerable. Miller's prose recalls the 18th-century novel. Steeped with specific details, it evokes a time when death and disease were so commonplace that the ability to rise above pain made one godlike. Beautifully controlled and moving in its denouement, this story of redemption testifies to the mystery of life and the possibility of grace. (Apr.)

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