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The Resurrectionist, By Jack O'Connell

A comic comeback reframed

The once-despised comic-book genre has now achieved literary gravitas as the graphic novel. Comics scribes such as Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman are routinely compared to the most ambitious "literary" writers. Salman Rushdie has admitted to being an expert on the Justice League of America, though T S Eliot kept quieter about his devotion to Krazy Kat. But this belated embracing of a popular art has gone further; several writers have folded comic-strip concepts into the superstructure of their books: Michael Chabon in The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Jodi Picoult in The Tenth Circle. Perhaps the most radical interpolation of comics into the novel is that by Jack O'Connell in The Resurrectionist.

O'Connell has long been a distinctive voice in American fiction (most of his books move in noir-ish territory) with a cult following that has not as yet translated into breakthrough success. The Resurrectionist is not a graphic novel, but infuses the energy and intensely visual qualities of the form into vivid, sometimes overwrought prose.

Sweeney takes a job in a strange clinic for coma patients run by the eccentric Dr Peck. Sweeney has an agenda: he is able to bring his son Danny, who is in a coma. But Sweeney has a host of obstacles, notably his own splenetic rage and guilt. His fellow workers are a bizarre group. And the clinic itself is a threatening and surrealistic universe, six parts Borges to four parts Mervyn Peake.

O'Connell, whose style dances between extravagant flourishes and the straightforward prose of Stephen King, is nothing if not ambitious. There is a key secondary narrative: Sweeney's son Danny was devoted to a comic-book chronicling the adventures of a troupe of circus freaks. This phantasmagoric plot strand, running parallel to Sweeney's, may be the key to the lost worlds of his son. This audacious novel will not be to the taste of those who prefer more linear narratives. But if you've a thirst for the rich and strange, The Resurrectionist is a feast of unsettling pleasures.