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Sunday, November 06, 2016

Just Finished Reading... The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt

The time: 1963. The place: Dead River Farm in the American South. 

The people: Pip, an African American orphan, whose only possession is his beloved copy of Great Expecations, given to him by his schoolteacher  mother, who named him for the hero of that book. Pip has been brought there by a Mr Zachery, who needs someone to read to his bedridden wife. The Zacherys are decent enough people, but their son Erwin is a prominent member of the local Ku Klux Klan - and he's crazy. 

Hannah, a beautiful young Native American girl, is the cook. She has been mute for some time, with good reason, as we discover. 

Jack Morrow, the hypnotist of the title, is an Irishman currently teaching at the local university, where he has been experimenting with helping servicemen to overcome their PTSD. He has strange eyes that scare people, but which help him in his work. He has been using his hypnotism for good, though he has a theatrical flair due to his parents, who did it as stage acts in their youth.  However, while teaching Pip and Hannah, he realises that there are some nasty things going on in the area, that there are colleagues who are in the Klan.

 This is the era of the Civil Rights movement. Things are happening that the Klan don't like at all. Martin Luther King is appearing on television, making his historic "I have a dream," speech. No, the Klan don't like it at all. They have plans...

The characters are people the reader can care about. The story is strong. I admit, I almost felt sorry for the crazy Erwin Zachery, who is used, first by the U.S. Army when in Vietnam, then by the Ku Klux Klan. But then, he has been strange since childhood and his actions in Vietnam got him thrown out of the army. 

I did wonder if it is really possible to use hypnotism in quite the way Jack does, since at times he sounds like Obi-Wan Kenobi murmuring, "These aren't the droids you're looking for... We can go about our business." But given that he has those strange eyes that are a part of his system, which he calls the Gift, I suspect this is a fantastical element, not intended to be taken as a real-life thing. I can't back this up, because spoilers, but I do think it's just a tiny element of fantasy. 

The book has been marketed as YA, but it might fit better in the category of "New Adult" or even adult. 

Whatever you call it, it's well worth a read.

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