Friday, February 12, 2010

Anthropophagi

Eww! First turds, now oozing pus, dripping entrails and copious amounts of blood and gore. It's the Printz Honor winner The Monstrumologist, which lets no gross imagery pass unnoticed. Author Rick Yancey introduces us to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, who has made it his life's work to study creatures believed to be fantasy but that he knows are all too real. He also has some daddy issues. He brings young William James Henry into his home following the death of his parents in a fire, as Will's father spent many years as Dr. Warthrop's loyal assistant. Will feels that he must do everything he can to fill his father's shoes, while Dr. Warthrop seems to take advantage of this and uses Will in ways that are both dangerous and somewhat short of empathy.

Will is awakened by a late-night knock at the doctor's door: A grave-robber has brought something for Dr. Warthrop to examine. It is the recently dead, but also recently gnawed upon, body of a young woman -- but wrapped around the body is the most dreadful thing Will has ever seen. A human-like body, but with no head. Instead the eyes and mouth are located in the torso of the creature. In the huge mouth are rows of sharp, serrated teeth
and in these teeth are strips of bloody flesh torn from the young woman's neck and body (I warned you!). Dr. Warthrop calls it an anthropophagus (meaning man-eater in Greek?). References to anthropophagi have appeared in classical literature, but the good doctor believes they are native to Africa. It's curious how it showed up in the small New England town of New Jerusalem, Massachusetts. (Remember those daddy issues ... )

[Since I have no clue about how to caption this image, I shall tell you that it comes from an online exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library.]

What the doctor doesn't realize until six more people have died in a rampage of blood lust and severed limbs is that there is an infestation of anthropophagi living underneath a graveyard. He hires the services of one Jack Kearns to slaughter the beasts. But, ultimately, it will come down to Will Henry -- the only one small enough to get into the anthropophagi's deepest, most secure chamber -- to save the day.

Yancey frames his story by telling us how he obtained Will Henry's manuscript (the title page informs us that he is but the editor) from the meagre belongings of a very old man who recently died at a local nursing home. If the old man is telling the truth, he was more than 130 years old. Will writes in a prolix, Victorian style -- never using one word when three will do. And his descriptions of the mayhem surrounding the doctor and his monster hunt are lengthy and loving. This is truly not for the easily grossed out. But for those of us who aren't, The Monstrumologist has a weird fascination, sweeping you up in the horror and the adventure. Like Will, you may want to turn away, but you can't.

Steven Boyer narrates this book. I heard him read Deadline two years ago and was quite impressed at how he elevated that trite, predictable novel. He's pretty good here as well. He reads with a boyishness that sounds very authentic, and yet he can change his voice in order to sound like an adult as well. Will and Dr. Warthrop frequently have conversations where they seem to be unable to actually communicate -- Will often answers the doctor literally, and the doctor believes that Will should automatically know of what he speaks -- and Boyer brings these off fairly well (they can be somewhat deadly to listen to). Jack Kearns -- the monster slayer -- is a devil-may-care Englishman, and while Boyer seems a little uncertain with the accent, he does a fine job with Jack's cutting humor and casual violence.

Three of the five Printz books (and three [?] of the five Newberys) are available in audio; I've now listened to three of these six (Charles and Emma and Homer P. Figg), and I think I may have enjoyed this one the most. (Well, enjoyed might be too strong ... this one had the most strengths as an audiobook.)

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