“On days like this the whole place gave the gimcrackery impression of a bright and showy and useless thing, or a clown vigorously juggling for empty rows in a circus tent, primed and pathetic and somehow futile.”
“The Electric Michelangelo” by Sarah Hall
Filled with heady prose and elaborate description, The Electric Michelangelo is the tale of two cities, the tale of two industries, and the tale of one man. Cyril Parks grew up in the Northern England seaside resort of Morcambe Bay, where his mother Reeda ran a bed and breakfast. It was there that he discovered, through drunken upstart Eliot Riley as mentor and boss, the art of tattoo. This skill takes him overseas, to New York, and to a very different kind of seaside escape: the Carnivale that is Coney Island in the time between wars. It’s there that he meets Grace, a strange and determined immigrant that he’s bound to fall in love with and hires him to cover her entire body with tattooed eyes.
For the most part, The Electric Michelangelo is a simple story told in an elaborate way. The profound nature of Cy’s life is mostly of his own making, contained in his own experiences, but his experiences are definitely interesting. This is my second time reading this book, and I recall being absolutely spellbound by Sarah Hall’s ornate prose. On the second read, the spell breaks a little and, though I still appreciate her power with words, it seemed a little heavy handed this time through, especially in the first half of the book. I believe the story picks up more momentum when Cy steps out of the influences of his mentors in England and breaks out on his own in America, and Hall frequents calls back to tidbits she offered up earlier. Part of me appreciates this kind of conscious writing; another part of me feels as though it’s just a little too obvious, a sort of dedicated attention to a Writing 101 rule that every word must serve a purpose.
Those words stick, though. It was astonishing to me as I read through the book how much of it came flooding back from the first time and recalling how much some of the beautiful images and thoughtful phrases had stuck with me. It really is a lovely book, a wonderful exploration of an industry and place, of how our culture and our worlds and the people in it can alter us and shape us into the people we become. And the book never ceases to make me want to go out and get a tattoo like I always wanted to, so it’s a good thing I definitely don’t have the money to do so right now. It’s gritty, it’s sexy, it’s beautiful, it’s overwrought. It’s a lovely book that’s definitely worth the magic of a first experience, even if the colors seem a little faded the second time around.
Books read: 12/100.
And, last but not least, allow me to thank Josh the Younger for subscribing to the blog! Welcome aboard, Josh! Glad to have you here!