Electric Michelangeloby Sarah Hall
Cy Parks is the Electric Michelangelo, an artist of extraordinary gifts whose medium happens to be the pliant, shifting canvas of the human body. Fleeing his mother's legacy -- a consumptives' hotel in a fading English seaside resort -- Cy reinvents himself in the incandescent honky-tonk of Coney Island in its heyday between the two world wars. Amid the/em>
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Cy Parks is the Electric Michelangelo, an artist of extraordinary gifts whose medium happens to be the pliant, shifting canvas of the human body. Fleeing his mother's legacy -- a consumptives' hotel in a fading English seaside resort -- Cy reinvents himself in the incandescent honky-tonk of Coney Island in its heyday between the two world wars. Amid the carnival decadence of freak shows and roller coasters, enchanters and enigmas, scam artists and marks, Cy will find his muse: an enigmatic circus beauty who surrenders her body to his work, but whose soul tantalizingly eludes him.This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
In the 1920s, Morecambe Bay, a small English coastal town, was renowned, at least locally, for the purity and restorative powers of its air, taken regularly as a curative by the tourists who filled its hotels and restaurants. Young Cyril Parks resides there with his mother, a widow whose seaside resort becomes a haven for consumptives -- mostly men who've spent a lifetime in the mines and who now seek only a few moments of fresh air and relaxation.
From this landscape, The Electric Michelangelo, a finalist for the Booker Prize, tells the story of Cy, starting with his bleak childhood and his apprenticeship with a local tattoo artist whose capacity for drunken rages is matched only by his gift with the needle. Newly skilled, Cy departs for America and sets up shop on the Coney Island boardwalk, where he meets the enigmatic Grace, a circus performer who offers Cy his most bizarre commission yet. What transpires between them as Cy slowly transforms her entire body into a living work of art is a little like love, and new to a man who has always found contentment in solitude.
A magical pastiche of eccentric characters and colorful times, The Electric Michelangelo seduces with its detail and atmosphere. In her American debut, Hall has created a world as mesmerizing and it is unforgettable. (Holiday 2005 Selection)
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The Electric Michelangelo
By Sarah Hall
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Sarah Hall
All right reserved.
If the eyes could lie, his troubles might all be over. If the eyes were not such well-behaving creatures, that spent their time trying their best to convey the world and all its gore to him, good portions of life might not be so abysmal. This very moment, for instance, as he stood by the hotel window with a bucket in his hands listening to Mrs Baxter coughing her lungs up, was about to deteriorate into something nasty, he just knew it, thanks to the eyes and all their petty, nit-picking honesty. The trick of course was to not look down. The trick was to concentrate and pretend to be observing the view or counting seagulls on the sill outside. If he kept his eyes away from what he was carrying they would not go about their indiscriminating business, he would be spared the indelicacy of truth, and he would not get that nauseous feeling, his hands would not turn cold and clammy and the back of his tongue would not begin to pitch and roll.
He looked up and out to the horizon. The large, smeary bay window revealed a desolate summer scene. The tide was a long way out, further than he could see, so as far as anyone knew it was just gone for good and had left the town permanently inland. It took a lot of trust to believe the water would ever come back each day, all that distance, it seemed like an awful amount of labour for no good reason. The whole dirty, grey-shingled beach was now bare, except for one or two souls out for a stroll, and one or two hardy sunbathers, in their two-shilling-hire deck-chairs, determined to make the most of their annual holiday week away from the mills, the mines and the foundries of the north. A week to take in the bracing salty air and perhaps, if they were blessed, the sun would make a cheerful appearance and rid them of their pallor. A week to remove all the coal and metal dust and chaff and smoke from their lungs and to be a consolation for their perpetual poor health, the chest diseases they would eventually inherit and often die from, the shoddy eyesight, swollen arthritic fingers, allergies, calluses, deafness, all the squalid cousins of their trade. One way to tell you were in this town, should you ever forget where you were, should you ever go mad and begin not to recognize the obvious scenery, the hotels, the choppy water, the cheap tea rooms, pie and pea restaurants, fish and chip kiosks, the amusement arcades, and the dancehalls on the piers, one way to verify your location was to watch the way visitors breathed. There was method to it. Deliberation. They put effort into it. Their chests rose and fell like furnace bellows. So as to make the most of whatever they could snort down into them.
There was a wet cough to the left of him, prolonged, meaty, ploughing through phlegm, he felt the enamel basin being tugged from his hands and then there was the sound of spitting and throat clearing. And then another cough, not as busy as the last, but thorough. His eyes flickered, involuntarily. Do not look down, he thought. He sighed and stared outside. The trick was to concentrate and pretend he was looking out to sea for herring boats and trawlers returning from their 150-mile search, pretend his father might come in on one of them, seven years late and not dead after all, wouldnt that be a jolly thing, even though the sea was empty of boats and ebbing just now. The vessels were presently trapped outside the great bay until the tide came back in. Odd patches of dull shining water rested on the sand and shingle, barely enough to paddle through, let alone return an absent father.
Outside the sky was solidifying, he noticed, as if the windowpane had someones breath on it. A white horse was heading west across the sands with three small figures next to her, the guide had taken the blanket off the mare, the better that she be seen. As if she was a beacon. Coniston Old Man was slipping behind low cloud across the bay as the first trails of mist moved in off the Irish Sea, always the first of the Lake District fells to lose its summit to the weather. So the guide was right to uncover the horse, something was moving in fast and soon would blanket the beach and make it impossible to take direction, unless you knew the route, which few did in those thick conditions. Then youd be stranded and at the mercy of the notorious tide.
-- Grey old day, isnt it, luvvie? Not very pleasant for June.
-- It is, Mrs Baxter. Theres a haar coming in. Shall I be taking this now or will you need it again shortly do you think?
-- No, I feel a bit better, now Im cleared out, you shant be depriving me. And if I need to go again Ill try to make it to the wash room. Youre a very good boy, Cyril Parks, your mammy should be proud to have a pet like you helping her around here. Well spoken and the manners of a prince. Is it a little chilly to have the sash open today, luvvie?
The woman watched him from her chair. She resembled a piece of boiled pork, or blanched cloth, with all her colour removed. Just her mouth remained vivid, saturated by brightness, garish against her skin, and like the inside of a fruit when she spoke, red-ruined, glistening and damp.
-- Yes, Mrs Baxter, Im afraid it is. Would you like some potted shrimp? Mam made it fresh today.
-- Oh yes. That would be lovely. I do so enjoy her potted shrimp, just a touch of nutmeg, not too heavy . . .
Excerpted from The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall Copyright © 2005 by Sarah Hall.
Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Sarah Hall was born in Cumbria, England. Her fiction has won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Overall Winner, Best First Book), a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the James Tiptree, Jr., Literary Award, and the Portico Prize. She has been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (South Asian and Europe region), the Prix Femina-Roman Etranger, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
- Charlotte, North Carolina, USA and Carlisle, Cumbria, UK
- Date of Birth:
- January 6, 1974
- Place of Birth:
- Carlisle, Cumbria, UK
- B.A., The University of Wales, Aberystwyth; M.A. in Creative Writing, St. Andrews University, Scotland
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this was a WONDERFUL book. i found it by accident, and am now recommending it to EVERYONE. if you have a tattoo, if you've ever considered getting a tattoo, or if you've wondered what the draw to tattooing is...this book gives you the inside look. it's an incredibly moving story and the way it's written makes the reader feel like they are a part of the action, they're watching it all happen first hand. very beautifully written! i swear that i could smell the ocean air and feel the crush of the crowds at coney island while i was reading! i was reading a bit every chance i got...a page here and there on my lunch break, till all hours of the mornings...i couldn't put it down. I LOVED this book.
I consider this book to be a modern classic. It is flawless. This is the sort of writing that seems to be completely devoid of rough drafts. This is the sort of writing that seems as though it simply poured from the core of the author. Every sentence is a little masterpiece. Each page is littered with alliterations, metaphors, imagery, tastes, smells. Positively beautiful.
The beautifully descriptive language haunted me as I read the book and I could not stop thinking about it when I wasn't reading it. The characters are so deep and intriguing -- an English tattoo artist trained by a drunk artistic genius moves to Coney Island and falls in love with a horse-riding circus performer. I haven't read anything this wonderful since Bel Canto.
Your phrase 'one of the most uniquely talented novelists' is absolutely unforgivable misuse of the English language. Something or someone is either unique or is not. There is no degree to unique. One is not most unique or quite unique or mildly unique. Unique is just that. Nothing more. It requires no adjective or superlatives. I should expect better from a publisher, an entity dealing in the buying and selling of words.
I have been reading for years and this is one of the worst books I have ever read. I kept asking myself...'Who cares about any of these characters' and 'why am I wasting my time?' The story never picked up for me. I believe Sarah Hall has talent, albeit misdirected.