Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Desirable Body by Hubert Haddad

Desirable Body by Hubert Haddad
First published in France in French as Corps desirable by Zulma in 2015. English language translation by Alyson Waters published by Yale University Press yesterday, the 21st August 2018.

One of my August Authorfest reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository

A medical mystery/fantasy/love story that delves deeply into the nature of consciousness while raising many of the ethical and existential issues facing scientists today

A contemporary Frankenstein that defies expectations, this is a thrilling novel, couched in luminous, captivating prose about a journalist, Cédric Allyn-Weberson, who suffers a horrific accident, paralyzing him from the neck down. An ideal candidate for a body transplant, Cédric survives the surgery but has both physical and existential trouble with his recovery and adaptation: encountering his lover with a new body, discovering the life history of his donor, and attempting to understand the mind-body relationship as he lives it.

Haddad explores the confusion and insignificance of a single consciousness before experience and identity: What is a head without a body? What or who is a lover with another’s body? The gruesome transplant (detailed in a manner that highlights the author’s own diligent research and comprehension) parallels other ways humanity mutates nature globally; the novel is a provocative and timely allegory—a work of dystopian fantasy.

I'm doing well for Frankenstein retellings this year! The Iraqi tale, Frankenstein In Baghdad, was a great read and I equally enjoyed this Tunisian offering, Desirable Body. I actually chose Desirable Body for its author's nationality (one more for WorldReads!) so the Frankenstein connection was an additional bonus. I felt that Desirable Body stayed closer to the original Mary Shelley story in terms of its prose style and I liked spotting Haddad's frequent nods to Shelley.

At the heart of Desirable Body is the question of what truly determines our identity. To what extent do our physical body and our brain each determine who we are? If you woke up one morning with your own consciousness and face, but another person's body, would you still be You? It's a fascinating idea to explore and one that I liked pondering as I read. Cedric, who is essentially the monster, already has a dual identity because he attempted to disguise his parentage by taking a different name. Now he must also try to understand his existence in a different body.

Haddad's story has an almost fairytale style to it in that I didn't feel I got to know the characters any more deeply than their immediate situation required. The same went for descriptions of individual locales. I had a good sense of each place, but Haddad doesn't divert into florid description, rather he saves his words for the internal dilemmas of his characters. I thought this writing style worked well for what is a fairly short novel. The pace is good throughout, slowing for philosophical discussions, but without too much in the way of scientific lecturing! I hadn't previously known about the 'second brain' theory so appreciated learning about that.

I think Desirable Body is a worthy addition to the Frankenstein-inspired genre as well as a strong tale in its own right. It feels, understandably, almost like vintage science fiction and I think would certainly appeal to fans of the original Frankenstein novel.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Hubert Haddad / Science fiction / Books from Tunisia


  1. I love your blog so much because it always sends me to google something :) I had to google 'second brain' theory too! LOVE how unique this book sounds!

    1. I think you would enjoy reading Desirable Body. I'm not sure if it's still on NetGalley?

  2. oh now that I googled it yes! I did know about it :)

  3. Ok I am intrigued by second brain theory and will have to look that up. When this said contemporary Frankenstein, I figured it meant in a vague way, so that's cool that you could see the connection and the nods to the original. This sounds thought-provoking!

    1. I think of the two I've read this year, Desirable Body is closer to the original in style whereas Frankenstein In Baghdad perhaps sticks more to the narrative line.

  4. I really do love the original classic Frankenstein so reading and finding out about retellings really interests me. It sounds like this one is a good one! I wish there was more depth to the characters and the locations but it sounds like this is still one worth reading.

    1. There is a kind of vintage fairytale style to Haddad's writing which together with the novella length means the story still carries itself well.


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