Anatomy: A Love Story | Review
Rating - ⭐⭐1/2
Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.
Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.
When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, the university will allow her to enroll. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books – she’ll need bodies to study, corpses to dissect.
Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.
But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets. Hazel and Jack work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society."
Anatomy: A Love Story is a standalone historical fiction novel by Sana Schwartz.
I went into this fully knowing that gothic stories didn't really work for me, so I was surprised that I found myself enjoying the story. Unfortunately for me, I was clearly having too good of a time, as the last 50 pages of this book completely ruined it for me. My enjoyment of this novel plummeted so fast that the story was now beyond saving.
Let's just get straight into it, shall we?
I would consider this to be kind of a mixed-media book, as this includes book excerpts, news articles, and letters interweaved into the text. Part of me likes that this was included because it was an interesting way to dump information. The other half of me had no motivation to read what it said.
On the negative side, there were some minor spelling mistakes and other writing choices that I personally do not like. Referring to a character by both their first and last name constantly, and, bolding a bunch of words at the beginning of each chapter are pet peeves of mine.
For a good majority of the book, I was enjoying myself. We follow Hazel, an upper-class woman who wants to become a surgeon. Seeing as this is a historical novel, such a job was unbecoming of a woman, so she disguised herself as a man to get into lectures. When she was found out, she takes a bet that if she passes an examination, she would be able to become a surgeon.
In order to practice for this exam, she ends up relying on Jack, who is a resurrectionist who steals corpses from the graveyard. While the plot does end up becoming more complex with a mystery added to the story, this was the gist of the story, and I didn't mind it. I liked that this focused less on the romance budding between Hazel and Jack, and more on her practice.
Where this completely fell off for me, however, was towards the very end of the book. The pacing was already off as it took way too long to get to something stated right in the synopsis, and when it finally did, things suddenly went from 0 to 100 and it became a very chaotic mess of a lot of things suddenly happening at once. That would have been fine if it was an interesting turn, but it was one that I just didn't like and thought it was a bit ridiculous.
The cherry on top of the messy sundae was the fact that there was also a loosely open ending, which I tend to not like.
This takes place in 19th century Edinburgh, Scotland. Because this is a historical novel, I took the liberty to do some digging to see if any details mentioned in this were relatively accurate.
From what I can tell, resurrection men, also known as body snatchers, were indeed prominent in the 19th century and the bodies were used for medical lectures. It is nice to see that the basis for this novel was, based on my five-minute Google search, based on real history. I also think that live surgeries, without anesthesia to boot, did happen live in front of students.
This is set specifically in 1816, and at several points in the book, the author describes what Hazel is wearing. Fashion history is a bit too complicated to do a quick search for, so I cannot attest to how accurate it sounded. But, a boned corset and a midnight blue velvet gown with a lace trim, and a chemise was mentioned as well. She also mentioned fainting due to the tightness of the corset, but again I don't know how common tightlacing was.
You also get a real sense of the time-period through the view on women. As I said before, the fact that Hazel wanted to be a surgeon was preposterous, as being a surgeon wasn't a respectable job for anyone let alone someone of a delicate female sensibility. There was also mention of hysterical women as well.
As I already mentioned, we mainly follow Hazel and Jack throughout this story. I didn't mind either of the characters, but I also didn't care much for them either.
One big red flag with Hazel's character that I did not like was the fact that she pretended to be sick so that she could stay at home alone and practice. You might be thinking, what's so bad about faking sickness? Well, there is a plague going around, one that her brother died because of and her mother is terrified that her younger brother will die of as well. As such, I thought it was really cruel of her to use that as her excuse.
Let's go straight into the next big red flag for me. Hazel is set to be engaged to Bernard in order to secure her future. I didn't have as much of an issue with the fact that she was going behind his back to cozy up with Jack, than the fact that they were cousins. Yes, surprise incest plot. I had to go back and re-read a section because I thought I heard it wrong, but no, they are cousins. Sure this is a historical novel, but no one wants to read about that.
Despite the disastrous end this book had, would I still recommend this? Strangely enough, I would say yes because this still might resonate with fans of gothic literature.
I would also say that this could work for people who did not end up liking Stalking Jack the Ripper. If you didn't like that book because it focused too much on the romance and too little on the science, then this might work better for you.
As a final note, this does involve animal cruelty and death, if that is something that bothers you.