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Posted August 10, 2012
What is art? The possibilities are endless with many holding that the element of beauty is what raises something to art. Others respond that art is innovation, or something that hasn't been done before. I have always thought that true art is dynamic and asks questions. To this end, I assert that M. Elias Keller's debut novel- Strange Case of Mr. Bodkin and Father Whitechapel is a work of art. Starting with an intriguing premise and solid character development, the plot builds upon itself to a satisfying conclusion. Throughout, I found myself reflecting and questioning some of my tightly held tenets: Are my motives as pure and charitable as I intend? Is life just a series of struggles to make sense of contradictions? How do I deal with competing urges? These are questions that I am still asking myself after finishing the book.
However, just because a book is enriching doesn't mean that readers will take the time to read. For there are plenty of worthy fiction and non fiction books that sit unread. Here is where Keller manifests his skill as a writer as he marries a provocative and philosophical discussion with a compelling and entertaining story full of complex characters in an incredibly described rich setting. I found myself immersed in 19th Century London's East End, a setting richly described as if a painting come alive. In Robert Louis Stevenson's evocative setting, I wandered the streets and wavered between empathizing with the complex characters on one page and arguing with them on another page.
That said, I would be remiss if I solely focused on the positive attributes of the book, without mentioning my concerns as well. I had real concerns with the companion nature of this book. Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Jekyll & Hyde is so polished and such an incredible achievement, that I felt that this may be more of a challenge than Keller could pull off in his debut. However, my concerns were diminished a few chapters in when Keller's voice emerged and I realized that although it reads successfully as a companion piece, this book asks new provocative questions and battles to stand on its own.
Overall, I was pleased to discover that Strange Case of Mr. Bodkin and Father Whitechapel is simply a great story. Despite the Victorian prose, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. Ultimately this combination of dynamic questioning, complex characters, detailed setting, and an absorbing plot, is why I highly recommend this book. Strange Case of Mr. Bodkin and Father Whitechapel is a valiant debut and I am anticipating the release of Keller's next work of art.
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Posted September 12, 2012