A pastiche of 18th-century English literature blended with some very modern psychoses and the attendant possibilities of mayhem.
“I do know there is terrible Monstrosity in me.” So writes debut novelist Wolf in the voice of narrator/protagonist Tristan Hart, a young man who most decidedly has difficulty determining “whether what was real had become Dream, or Dream real.” His constant companion is a scamp named Nathaniel Ravenscroft, who is always getting into some mischief in which Tristan is implicated, but Tristan doesn’t need much encouragement. Give him a view out a window, after all, and he’s likely to conjure up visions of gypsies or fairies, to say nothing of the frightening fellow who gives the novel its creepy title. Tristan is both genius and monster indeed, a medical student who is fascinated by the workings of pain and not at all shy about conducting sadistic experiments with the strumpets of London. Only a Dick Cheney could love such a fellow, and Wolf takes evident delight in describing Tristan’s excesses, which some readers might find hard to take. Amid the bloodletting and self-absorbed meditations on the meaning of it all, there are also well-written if perhaps anachronistic pleas for wilderness conservation. Though broad and broadly written in generally spot-on Georgian English, and though boasting the figure of none other than Henry Fielding in an advisory role, this is no Tristam Shandy—or Fight Club, for that matter—and Wolf’s tale goes on far too long, well past the point of self-indulgence.
A little of it goes a very long way. Still, there are plenty of good moments in this rollicking, inventive and surpassing strange tale.