Audiobook Review: The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegel

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review: The Anatomy Lesson by Nina SiegelThe Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal
Narrator: Adam Alexi-Malle, Bruce Mann, Emma Jayne Appleyard, Gildart Jackson, Hannah Curtis, Nina Siegel, Peter Altschuler, Steve West
Length: 9 hrs, 9 mins
Published by Random House Audio on March 11, 2014
Genres: Historical
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
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two-stars

Set in the Dutch Golden Age, an engrossing historical novel that brilliantly imagines the complex story behind one of Rembrandt's most famous paintings

Commissioned by the Amsterdam Surgeons’ Guild, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp was the first major Rembrandt work to catapult the young painter to international fame. Taking this painting as its inspiration, Nina Siegal’s novel The Anatomy Lessonopens on the morning of the medical dissection and follows several characters as they prepare for the evening’s big event: we meet Aris the Kid, a one-handed coat thief who is awaiting his turn at the gallows; Flora, the woman who is pregnant with his child and who hopes to save him from the executioner; Jan Fetchet, a curio collector who also moonlights as an acquirer of medical cadavers; René Descartes, who will attend the dissection in the course of his quest to understand where the human soul resides; and the twenty-six-year-old Dutch master himself, who feels a shade uneasy about this assignment. And in the twenty-first century, there is Pia, a contemporary art historian who is examining the painting.

As the story builds to its dramatic and inevitable conclusion, the events that transpire throughout the day sway Rembrandt to make fundamental changes to his initial composition. Bringing to life the vivid world of Amsterdam in 1632, The Anatomy Lesson offers a rich slice of history and a textured story by a young master.

The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegel is one of those cases where I totally overrated my interest in a subject. Art history is interesting to me, and so I thought this novel about the circumstances of Rembrandt’s creation of the painting “The Anatomy Lesson” would be great, plus it’s read by a full cast, which is my favorite thing. The performances are indeed quite good, but the focus on the science of the times definitely surpassed my personal interests, but I didn’t realize that for sure until I was about halfway through, so I wanted to push on through to the other side.

Alright, so there’s a cast of characters, all of whom have their own perspectives, each read by a different narrator. I couldn’t find a list of the narrators online, but the folks at Random House Audio were nice enough to supply me with the list, which I’ll copy here in case anyone else cares about how the cast breaks down:

Nina Siegal (author) – Author’s Note & Acknowledgements
Bruce Mann – The Body / Adriaen “Aris” Adriaenszoon
Emma Jayne Appleyard – The Heart / Flora of Leiden
Gildart Jackson – The Mouth / Jan Fetchet
Steve West – The Eyes / Rembrandt
Adam Alexi-Malle – The Mind/ René Descartes
Peter Altschuler – The Hand / Dr. Nicolaes Tulp
Hannah Curtis – Conservator’s Notes / Pia de Graaf

Random House Audio did a great job, as they almost always do, matching narrators with characters. They all really fit with their characters, and it was really easy to keep the different perspectives apart.

I definitely think The Anatomy Lesson is a good book, but I think that you need to be a bit more invested in the scientific opinions of the 1600s than I happen to be. Certain perspectives were really interesting to me. Whenever the story was following Rembrandt (especially Rembrandt because his voice is delicious), Aris, Flora, or Fetchet, I was engaged and enjoying the book. I thought the contrast between Aris’ narrative, which runs on a separate timeline from all of the others, was really cool. We know from the start that he ends up dissected for the anatomy lesson, but only slowly find out how he got there. That worked well.

However, every time the perspective switched to Descartes or Tulp, I was mindnumbingly bored. Both rattle on and on and on about trying to find the soul’s location in the body. Yes, I know this was a big question of science back then, but I have no fucks to give about any of this. None whatsoever. Also, though I wasn’t bored by her perspective, I don’t understand the point of having Pia de Graaf, a modern woman restoring “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp, at all. She’s actually doing breakthrough research on the painting, in which she figures out the things which are unraveling, but she only pops in a couple of times and nothing is made of her discoveries. That time line doesn’t have a story of its own and doesn’t impact the understanding of the one in the past, so why was it there? Whatever purpose the author intended for it to serve was lost on me.

So there you go. The Anatomy Lesson is most excellent if you’re really into art history or the scientific and philosophical ideas of the 1600s. Otherwise, it might be a struggle.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

not my jam

One response to “Audiobook Review: The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegel”

  1. Bonnie says:

    Yeah. Doesn’t sound like my jam either but I do love full cast narrations. Great review anyways. 🙂
    Bonnie recently posted…Book Review – Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3) by Tahereh MafiMy Profile

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